Lt. John Pike, the campus police officer who most notably sprayed seated UC Davis students in a Nov. 18 protest, has been fired.
According to documents obtained by the Sacramento Bee, newly appointed UC Davis Police Chief Matt Carmichael fired Pike Tuesday, rejecting findings by an internal affairs investigation conducted last November that declared Pike acted reasonably in his decision to employ pepper spray.
Pike, who had served the UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD) for 11 years, had been on paid leave since the incident.
UC Davis spokesperson Claudia Morain explained that she is unable to comment further on Pike’s departure because it is a personnel matter.
“Consistent with privacy guidelines established in state law and university policy, I can confirm that John Pike’s employment with the university ended on July 31, 2012,” she said.
The Sacramento Bee reports that Carmichael wrote Pike to explain his impending termination.
“The needs of the department do not justify your continued employment,” the letter stated.
About three months after the Nov. 18 pepper spraying, 21 students and recent graduates who were pepper sprayed and arrested filed a civil rights suit through the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the University, as well as Pike, Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, former Chief of Police Annette Spicuzza, who stepped down shortly after the incident, and a number of other police officers and administrators.
“What we’re trying to achieve for this case is to make sure that the university improves its policies, training and its procedures to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again and that [UC Davis] is an institution that doesn’t just tolerate free speech but realizes the importance of free speech to a university environment and to our political system,” said Michael Risher, an attorney for a plaintiff in the suit.
The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, is about to enter mediation with the University around Aug. 15, Risher said.
He explained it would be incorrect to assign all blame to Pike.
“The unlawful arrest, the unlawful use of force and the unlawful disruption of a political demonstration on Nov. 18 were a culmination of a series of bad decisions by people all up at the chain of commands at [UC Davis],” he said. “The University should not pretend that terminating Lt. Pike has done anything to absolve it of its responsibility of what happened on Nov. 18.”
Like Risher, Brett Lemke, a senior evolutionary anthropology major and a lifetime member of the ACLU, said that punishing one person will not solve the problem of police brutality in the future.
“I believe that accountability is the issue that we should be dealing with here, and that ultimately, this accountability should trickle its way up directly to the top. We need accountability for the people who gave the orders, starting with Linda Katehi,” Lemke said.
Lemke, who is also affiliated with Occupy UC Davis, explained that other factors played into the events of Nov. 18.
“In terms of the overall systemic issue; the militarization of campus police, lack of democratic student control over UCPD and the privatization of public education were the structural causes of the events that led to the … tragedy,” he said in an e-mail interview.
Muneeza Rizvi, a senior international relations major, explains that Pike’s termination is in large part an attempt by the administration to divert attention from the Davis Dozen, a group of 11 students and one faculty member presently facing 11 years each in jail and $1 million in fines for the alleged blockade and closure of a campus branch of US Bank.
“‘Excessive force,’ whether as pepper spray, punitive legal measures, or academic dismissals, is the necessary violence of privatization. Pike, as an individual, is less consequential than the structural realities that made the ‘pepper spray incident’ possible (and perhaps even unsurprising),” Rizvi said in an e-mail interview.
According to the report, Pike said that he believed the use of pepper spray was “appropriate.”
“I take my job very seriously,” the report quoted Pike as saying. “… Any application of force… it’s not a thrill ride, it’s not, ‘Woo hoo, this is gonna be fun, I get to hurt somebody.’ That’s not it,” the report stated Pike to have said. “Grappling [with students] would have escalated the force, whereas pepper spray took ‘the fight out of them,'” the report quoted Pike as saying.
ACLU attorney Risher explained that a reason he did not wish to speak specifically on Pike’s termination is because, like much of the public, he does not know the internal process that lead to it, as the State of California offers law enforcement officials strict privacy measures, including the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights.
“We have no idea how the disciplinary process works in police departments, whether it’s doing its job … we simply cannot rely on the fox to guard the hen house,” Risher said. “Police departments simply aren’t in a position to conduct the type of neutral, independent, unbiased investigations of their own officers when necessary.”
MUNA SADEK can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clarification 8/6/12: While the Davis Dozen do technically face a maximum of 11 years in jail, university officials and the Yolo County DA both have said this is unrealistic. University officials have maintained that the $1 million figure is unrealistic, too. Morain also said that the Davis Dozen does not correlate with as to why Pike no longer works at UC Davis.