In addition to the names of officers involved in the November 2011 pepper spray incident at UC Davis, The Sacramento Bee has obtained confidential interviews of the officers conducted as part of the internal affairs report that led to the dismissal of Lt. John Pike, the officer seen on video spraying the students. The interviews were conducted with the officers’ attorneys present and reveal for the first time the officers’ descriptions of the incident:
Officer Jason Barrera:
“…(I)t was a buildup, and at some point, you know, we had to get out of there, and I was afraid that we may not be able to get out of there without, without using some type of force…
“It was one of the more, it was a frightening event when we were there. And I’ve, I’ve never been encircled like that, working other protest events. I’ve never seen the crowd flow as much as it did prior…”
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Officer Bill Beermann:
“I have never felt enclosed like that before. Where I felt my personal safety was at risk…
“If you’ve ever been involved in, been involved in a crowd control situation, it becomes loud, radio traffic becomes very difficult to understand, very difficult to hear. People had helmets on with their shields down. And that voices are muffled on the radio also.
“So it was, it was, based on that … it was an officer safety issue, definitely.”
Officer Justin Brewer:
“…(B)ascially, you’re putting yourself in the position, in this position where you’re surrounded by people who have been chanting as essentially comments that are suggestive of a lynching, and, you know, they could take his baton, they could push him on the ground, try to take his gun…”
Officer Raymond Sutera:
“The crowd had grown precipitously from the time we first got there. I would estimate there were probably a couple hundred people there, you know, when they, when we were surrounded and they were chanting and yelling.
“There were people constantly beckoning other students to join the … protest and so forth…It was not a comforting feeling. I mean, we, we were surrounded, and if, if the crowd had turned ugly, I mean, if the crowd had turned real aggressive it would have been a, a, a pretty good (unintelligible).”
Sgt. Danny Sheffield:
“The tone of the crowd that, that turned into, frankly, a, a lynch-mob type mentality. They, they were trying to secure the release of the arrestees by holding us hostage ... . There were two to three male subjects in the crowd that I directly observed pulling what appeared to be rocks out of their pockets and handing ‘em out to people.”
Officer Kevin Skaife:
“I was thinking, ‘Man, we don’t have enough officers for this.’ At the point when we’re encircled, I’m thinking, ‘This is horrible, this is really bad…’
“Because we were trapped. There were still arrestees in that circle at that point, which was horrible. The crowd had grown at that point to, I’d say, between 200 and 300 people.”
Officer Ruben Arias:
“I was actually frightened. I was actually frightened in the sense of I didn’t know what this crowd was doing, what they’re capable of, and it wasn’t the peaceful crowd that everyone thought it was. They were really agitated.”
Sgt. Paul Henoch:
“Then after the chants started getting louder, they had circled us and had blocked our walkway … and the group gathered closer to us.”
Detective Joanne Zekany:
“It was, I felt, that it was a safety concern to try and move (the arrested protestors), based on the numbers of us them versus us. And we were trying to, being on the skirmish line, protect the people that were being detained and move them safely without somebody trying to lynch them.”
Officer Moaz Ahmad:
“Some of them were yelling threats, so I felt very threatened because a month prior I had dealt with with Occupy protestors at UC Berkeley and they had become very violent against the peace officers. Three officers were, went to the hospital with serious injuries. And they had grabbed stuff off officers’ belts.”
Officer Brian Halley:
“We were fully encircled. Like, I was in awe. I was a little nervous, I didn’t know what was next ...’cause at this time they started moving a little closer. I mean, not even arm’s length … But I was thinking, you know, ‘How we gonna get out of here?’”
Officer Vincent Kwong:
“It kind of brought me back to Berkeley that I know that … there are not just regular protestors of students, there’s also outsiders, there’s other groups that purposely instigate and they’re the ones with black bandanas on their face.
“And I remember that when we used flashlights at one point at the Berkeley protest you can see people holding slingshots … raised to take a shot.
“And after I got shot in the face, in the face mask, the officer next to me several minutes later got … a traffic delineator thrown right at her facial area and … gave her a concussion.”
Officer Mikkio McCullough:
“I’m a, generally, a nice person, and if I’m picking out my potential targets … if a brawl happens that means something is not right …, I’m not feeling safe.
“I can’t say it’s like a bar brawl ‘cause I haven’t been in one, but it’s like, it felt like they were just gonna come in on us and we were just gonna have to start fighting.”
Officer Robert Sotelo:
“I was worried. I was worried the entire time that the students were going to do something to force me to do the other side of my job that I didn’t want to do. We weren’t there to stop the protesting, or to stop them from protesting.
“We weren’t there to hurt students. We were there to take down tents. And they had already started forcing our hand. And I was worried that they were going to force me to do something that I wasn’t there to do in the first place … I was scared of, that the consequences would involve me or my partners getting hurt, and then the long-term consequences of being in situations like this now.”