Judge rejects UC Davis pepper-spray report secrecy
Posted by Xeno on March 16, 2012
The report on the November pepper-spraying of students and protesters at UC Davis likely will be ordered released today, although a potential court appeal may delay public release until at least April 2.
In a tentative ruling issued late Thursday, an Alameda Superior Court judge indicated he was not swayed by arguments from an attorney for the campus police involved in the incident that releasing the report with officers’ names is illegal under state law.
Instead, Judge Evelio Grillo said in his 16-page tentative ruling that the report does not contain any confidential information regarding campus officers and that it does not recommend disciplinary action against any of the officials involved in the Nov. 18 incident.
“The report is a compilation of public information that would have been available to an investigative journalist or member of the public who took the time and expended the effort to make a Public Records Act request, review videos posted on YouTube and elsewhere, and locate and interview witnesses,” the judge wrote.
He added that the university system “will suffer substantial harm if they cannot disclose and discuss information and recommendations regarding the incident … .”
The judge, who read a copy of the report that was provided to him under seal, also gave the first hints at its contents, including indications that both university police and administrators can expect to face criticism over the pepper-spray incident.
The investigative report is “extensive and detailed,” the judge wrote. And the subsequent task force report based on that investigation “assigns responsibility to the UC Davis administration and to members of the (campus police).” “The report considers various decision points in the incident and describes how and why those decisions were made by specific individuals,” the judge wrote. “The report then assigns responsibility to specific individuals, including police officers, for various specific decisions.”
The judge’s tentative ruling, which is expected to be issued formally today at a hearing in Oakland, stems from a legal feud over a months-long investigation of the pepper-spray incident.
The episode played out after students and supporters set up a tent encampment on the campus quad, part of a multi-day protest of rising college costs. After demonstrators refused orders to remove the tents and disperse, campus police moved in and, in videos that the judge noted have since become an “Internet meme,” Lt. John Pike began spraying a group of protesters who had linked arms and were sitting on the ground.
The videos sparked worldwide controversy, and amid the uproar that followed, UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi maintained that she never would have approved police moving on the students if she had known force would be used.
Three campus officers were put on paid leave following the incident: Pike, Chief Annette Spicuzza and a third whose name has not been made public. In addition, Katehi commissioned an independent investigation, which gave rise to a task force led by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.
The task force report relies on an investigation carried out by Kroll, a security consulting firm led by former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. The task force planned to make the report public earlier this month, but the union representing the campus officers sought a court order halting release.
Union attorney John Bakhit argued that releasing the report with officers’ names and potentially damaging information about their conduct is illegal under state laws and court rulings that afford California peace officers strong privacy protections….