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Lt. John Pike Goes Viral (7)

A. D. Coleman, 2010. Photograph copyright by Willie Chu.Pepper-Spray Cop has left the house.

More precisely, Lt. John Pike, who, in his role as an officer of the University of California Davis Police Force, rose to the status of international celebrity and internet meme on November 18, 2011, when he doused peaceful Occupy protesters with military-grade pepper spray, has had his employment by the University of California system terminated. See Sam Stanton’s report for the Sacramento Bee, “UC Davis confirms officer at center of pepper spraying controversy no longer on the force,” datelined July 31, 2012.

Lt. Matt Carmichael of the UC Davis Police Department (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Lt. Matt Carmichael of the UC Davis Police Department (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Stanton’s initial story is short on details, with both UC Davis spokesman Barry Shiller and Pike staying mum on whether Pike resigned, got fired, or departed by cordial mutual agreement. But his follow-up on August 2, “UC Davis chief overruled panel to fire pepper-spray officer,” fills in the blanks:

“The internal affairs investigation into last November’s pepper-spraying controversy at UC Davis concluded that Lt. John Pike acted reasonably, with a subsequent review concluding he should have faced demotion or a suspension at worst, according to documents obtained by The Bee. Despite those recommendations, Pike was fired Tuesday [July 31] after UC Davis Police Chief Matthew Carmichael rejected the findings and wrote in a letter to Pike that ‘the needs of the department do not justify your continued employment,’ according to the documents.”

I’d long since put my money on the probability that the university would either fire Pike or force him to resign, with his illegal use of a type of pepper spray he was neither trained to utilize nor authorized to carry, while on duty as as the senior officer in charge at the scene, as the legal basis for giving him the bounce. (Kamran Loghman, one of pepper spray’s developers, told the New York Times, “I have never seen such an inappropriate and improper use of chemical agents.”)

Still from video of Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying peaceful protesters at UC Davis, 11/18/11

Still from video of Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying peaceful protesters at UC Davis, 11/18/11

The viciousness of this attack becomes even more egregious and inexcusable when it turns out, as the earlier Kroll and Reynoso reports commissioned by the University of California make explicitly clear, that the students had every legal right to be and stay exactly where they were at that time of day on the UC Davis campus, and thus did not commit any acts of civil disobedience. This no doubt explains the fact that all ten of the arrests made that day on misdemeanor charges got voided by the Yolo County District Attorney’s office.

The university, consequently, had no clear legal basis on which to demand the protesters’ dispersal, much less to turn its goon squad loose on them. They knew that, and proceeded on their reckless course of action anyway. (Click here for a PDF that contains both the Kroll and Reynoso reports.)

That eliminates the strongest argument of the original right-wing defenders of the police action — that the students, when all is said done, willfully broke the law, thus justifying even an excessive police response. I note with amusement, but no surprise, the silence from the right that has followed upon the release of that official determination of the actual circumstances.

Now that the evidence shows convincingly that university regulations, California state law, and federal law got violated not by the students but by Pike, his fellow officers, and his superiors all the way up the chain of command, Joseph WambaughBrent BozellJohn Hawkins, Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly have shut their fookin’ gobs, as the Brits like to say. (Also clamming up, elsewhere on the political spectrum: Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, whose tear-jerking “Why I Feel Bad for the Pepper-Spraying Policeman, Lt. John Pike” instantly became a bleeding-heart liberal classic.)

Megyn Kelly meets Lt. John A. Pike III.

Megyn Kelly meets Lt. John A. Pike III.

Back on November 27, shortly after this story broke, I predicted that Pike would be “gone by New Year’s Day.” Obviously I underestimated seriously the protections afforded even to miscreants like Pike by California’s Police Officers’ Bill of Rights and UC’s policies and procedures, as a result of whose convoluted requirements Pike got placed on paid administrative leave instead, which earned him about $80K for sitting on his duff between November 21 and July 31, when his inevitable departure became official. (Note: Student fees pay roughly 40 percent of the salaries of Pike and his fellow officers, who were thus biting the hands that feed them last November 18. This means that about $32K of his paid vacation in the months since also came from student fees. He will receive no further payout, but remains eligible for retirement benefits.)

Officer Alexander Lee, ordered by Pike to join him in spraying the students, and also on paid administrative leave, has been fired as well, as of July 11.

Lt. John Pike with pepper spray and Lolspeak caption.

Lt. John Pike with pepper spray and Lolspeak caption.

From the Kroll and Reynoso reports, it’s clear that UC Davis Chief of Police Annette Spicuzza served as a hapless, ineffectual figurehead for a crew of rogue cops who flatly refused to follow her orders, with Pike in the role of their alpha dog. In such situations, best practices usually consist in getting rid of them all, then rehiring selectively — rebuilding the department from the ground up.

Carmichael took office on April 19, on a one-year contract, presumably with a new-broom mandate to clean up a department that the impartial external reports considered “dysfunctional.” Just a week later, Stanton notes, “In a letter dated April 27, Carmichael informed Pike that he planned to fire him.” Apparently it took another 90 days of highly paid leave for the university to finally divest itself of this embarrassing and extremely expensive hire. (Of course, booting him in mid-summer, with the campus all but closed down, precluded any celebratory gatherings in the quad, which surely got factored into the timing.)

I don’t know why, in addition to the Kroll and Reynoso reports, the university also hired investigators from two outside firms, Deborah Allison at Van Dermyden Allison Law Corp. of Sacramento and Ed McErlain at Yorba Linda-based Norman A. Traub Associates. I have to assume that the university contract with the Police Union required that course of action. These investigators interviewed campus leaders, students and officers who were present during the event, including Pike (who refused to cooperate with the Kroll and Reynoso investigators), reviewed thousands of pages of documents, then concluded that Pike’s use of pepper spray was “reasonable under the circumstances.” They issued their report on March 1. (For Cruz Reynoso’s response to that report, click here.)

"Anonymous the Squirrel vs. Lt. John Pike," photocollage by A. D. Coleman, 2011.

“Anonymous the Squirrel vs. Lt. John Pike,” photocollage by A. D. Coleman, 2011.

The resulting “internal affairs report” was then reviewed by a panel, called a “sufficiency review board,” made up of a UCD police captain and the campus chief compliance officer. (Neither of these reports has been made public, but copies were leaked to the Sacramento Bee.) In an April 2 report, they recommended an “exonerated finding” on Pike’s use of force (the pepper-spraying), concluding that Pike’s ”serious errors of judgment and deficiencies of leadership” warranted demotion and/or brief suspension, but not dismissal.

Carmichael has shown the courage Spicuzza lacked by dismissing the findings of the internal affairs investigations committee. Patently a “thin blue line” whitewash, the committee’s conclusions conveniently disregard the fact that Pike (a) refused to obey the orders of his commanding officer, (b) possessed and deployed an unauthorized weapon, (c) did so without any training, (d) used it incorrectly and dangerously, and (e) conspired to do so with other officers under his control, at least one of whom joined him in these wrongful acts. His actions cost the UC Davis Police Force its reputation, and did grave damage to the reputation of the university as whole. The comparatively mild disciplinary actions recommended by those conducting the internal investigation hardly do justice to the gravity of these offenses and their consequences.

Lt. John Pike waves pepper-spray can, 11-18_11

Lt. John Pike waves pepper-spray can, 11-18_11

“Waddling like a cocksure duck,” as one commentator at the Dangerous Minds site put it, Pike with his blithe disregard for the multiple still and video cameras trained on him all but ensured that his actions, and his attitude in performing them, would go viral. What resulted was not only Pike’s transformation into a memetic icon but, much more importantly, an object lesson in the potency of citizen journalism as enabled by the internet. I’ve tracked this evolving situation here at Photocritic International for both those reasons, and also because it demonstrates the enduring power of lens-derived imagery to influence events and effect change.

Lt. John Pike, former UC Davis Police officer

Lt. John Pike, former UC Davis Police officer

Were it not for all that photographic documentation, Pike would never have gotten more than a reprimand for leading this unprovoked assault on legally assembled students. His commanding officer, Spicuzza, would not have been caught in a web of her own lies and incompetencies and forced to resign. (Also placed on paid leave a few days after the debacle, Spicuzza preceded Pike with her April departure — predicted here as well.) UC Davis Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi would not stand publicly disgraced by her own mismanagement of the situation and subsequent prevarication, with the tumbril now turning inexorably in her direction. Mark G. Yudof, president of the entire University of California system, would not be devoting months of his highly paid time overseeing spin control for the appalling behavior of his underlings. The UC system would not have to spend a small fortune to counter the terrible damage done to its reputation by these variously irresponsible and incompetent employees. And UC Davis, as well as Katehi, Spicuzza, and Pike individually, would not be facing a slew of lawsuits involving civil and possibly criminal charges. (See the video message to Pike from Anonymous uploaded to YouTube on Nov. 20, 2011.)

Seems only fitting to close this post with my crude but heartfelt YouTube video, “Megyn Kelly’s MK-9 Pepper Spray for Kids!” — posted on November 27, 2011, produced via one of my alter egos, the performance-art persona known as The Derrière Garde:

Megyn Kelly's MK-9 Pepper Spray for Kids! YouTube video

For an index of links to all posts related to this story, click here.

This post supported by a donation from the Estate of Lyle Bongé.

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