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Lt. John Pike Goes Viral (9)

A. D. Coleman. Photo © 2012 by Anna Lung.

Just before Turkey Day we passed the second anniversary of that notable mass-media event, the internet debut of the meme forever after to be known as the “Pepper-Spray Cop.” Having covered the warp-speed rise and spread of this instance of citizen journalism and citizen op-ed commentary, I thought I’d provide an update.

Should you need to refresh your memory of this notable event, fast receding into the dim recesses of history (it’s so 2011), I recommend the version at SwitchCam, homesite of a remarkable new image-editing technology, where you can watch the entire incident from multiple camera angles and with a selection of audio tracks. You’ll find my own coverage of and commentary on this situation here.

Working Definition of Chutzpah Dep’t.

Leo Rosten, "The Joy of Yiddish" (1968), cover

Leo Rosten, “The Joy of Yiddish” (1968), cover

In his 1968 book The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defined chutzpah as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

In that spirit (though he’s not Jewish), John Pike, formerly a lieutenant in the campus police at the University of California, Davis, filed a worker’s compensation claim with the State of California for “psychiatric injury,” which can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And he received a lump-sum settlement of $38,056 from the university ― much less than he’d hoped for, certainly, but more than any of the students received as their share of the settlement for the pain he inflicted on them.

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

You’ll recall Pike as the swaggering, beer-bellied dude who, dressed in riot gear, illegally doused peacefully seated students staging an Occupy demonstration with a military-grade chemical irritant on November 18, 2011. Thanks to ample evidence provided by citizen journalism and digital imaging, UC Davis subsequently fired Pike, though it took them 8 months to do so, during which time, relieved of duty but placed on “paid administrative leave,” he collected some $80K or more in salary and benefits.

Totting up everything UC Davis has paid out before this for its expenses related to this 2011 berserker moment of Pike’s and a previous episode of homophobic racism directed at a fellow officer (settled by the university for $240K), I calculated that Pike had cost the university upwards of $4.3 million as of last year. That’s aside from his salary and benefits while under their employ. This final $38K represents a comparative drop in the bucket, surely worth it to get shut of him for good.

I Pity the Fool, But . . .

"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.

Internationally notorious since that afternoon as the “pepper-spray cop” whose image went viral and turned into a meme within hours of his attack, Pike obviously wanted UC Davis to feel his pain. He asserted in his claim that the scorn, derision, vituperation, and harassment to which he’s been subjected since that debacle have resulted in his “experiencing psychiatric problems” that entitle him some reward for his discomfiture. (Click here for his sworn account of his ordeal, and here for my coverage of the explosion of the “pepper-spray cop” meme, and my own contribution thereto.)

Pike, who told the press last year that he was “relieved” to learn that no criminal charges would get filed against him by the Yolo County District Attorney, has since become the aggrieved victim in this debacle ― at least in his own mind. This despite the fact that, according to one participant in and witness to the demonstration (identified only as “William” in this Vimeo video interview), “Our line that they pepper-sprayed was … one-person-deep. One of the officers began to remove us physically without the use of weapons. And Lieutenant John Pike ordered them to stop, raising his pepper can and saying … ‘Leave them. I want to spray these kids.'” (Civil suits against him were discussed but not pursued by his victims.)

Lt. John Pike with pepper spray and Lolspeak caption.

Lt. John Pike with pepper spray and Lolspeak caption.

California’s Department of Industrial Relations was set to review Pike’s claim on August 13, at a mandatory settlement conference in Sacramento. According to ABC News 10, “If no settlement [was] reached [at that hearing], Pike’s case would [have gone] forward to trial or move[d] on for further hearing.” Had the state granted him what he asked, Pike, now 40, would have received “disability benefits covering income, health and other benefits until age 65. Currently, he is only entitled to retirement credit for his years of service on the UC Davis police force,” according to this report by Emily Smith at Opposing Views.

However, Melissa Brown, a worker’s comp attorney not involved in the case, told ABC News 10 that due to recent cutbacks made by the California Legislature, “a 50 percent permanent disability for instance, would entitle Pike to $62,000 in lifetime cash benefits, but medical treatment for life.” Unclear who’s got their facts straight; either way, not chump change.

 . . . No Pity Party for John Pike

That isn’t how it played out. A summary of what ensued:

Lt. John Pike with Socrates. Anonymous photocollage.

Lt. John Pike with Socrates. Anonymous photocollage.

• A January 5, 2013 report by Richard Lieberman, a Piedmont psychiatrist acting as the agreed-upon expert, rated Pike’s disability as “moderate.” (This doesn’t breach confidentiality; California law required public release of this report.) According to Lieberman, Pike faced “continuing and significant internal and external stress with respect to resolving and solving the significant emotional upheavals that have occurred” in his life and had not shown evidence of substantial improvement, and his social functioning has been “significantly handicapped because of the events at work.” Pike was “still dealing with intense anger, self-esteem issues and depressive reactivity” resulting from the fact that he “has not felt guilty about any actions that he did [sic], but was in fact unhappy about the unintended consequences which followed.”

• Upon learning that Pike had filed this claim, Occupy UC Davis promptly set up a Facebook page calling for a demonstration outside the hearing, described as an “Officer Pike Fiesta of Emotional Support and Caring” to “show him that we’ll always be there for him, ready to remind him of all the wonderful things he has done to us.”

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

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

• The August 13 hearing got cancelled by Pike and his attorney. The state’s Disability Evaluation Unit determines permanent disability ratings based on doctors’ reports. Psychiatrist Richard Lieberman’s report as noted above, with its clear indication that Pike felt no remorse for his actions, would have weighed heavily against him.

• Instead, Pike and UC Davis went into private negotiations, as the result of which the state Division of Workers Compensation Appeals Board agreed to settle his claim with a one-time payout of $38,055, according to Reuters.

Lt. John Pike in Donald L. Robinson's "Ali Defeats Liston," May 25, 1965. Anonymous photocollage.

Lt. John Pike in Donald L. Robinson’s “Ali Defeats Liston,” May 25, 1965. Anonymous photocollage.

• Administrative Law Judge Harter approved the settlement agreement between Pike and the University of California on Oct. 16. The settlement “resolves all claims of psychiatric injury” related to Pike’s employment with the university. In a written statement, UC Davis spokesman Andy Fell said,”This case has been resolved in accordance with state law and processes on workers’ compensation. The final resolution is in line with permanent impairment as calculated by the state’s disability evaluation unit.”

That $38K represents approximately four months’ worth of Pike’s UC Davis salary, meaning that he received a full year’s salary after getting suspended and then fired. (He was being paid an annual salary of $121,680 at the time they gave him the boot.) He will also receive retirement benefits for his 11 years of campus employment.

Backstory/Going Forward

John Pike, ex-UC Davis Police officer

John Pike, ex-UC Davis Police officer

Pike’s distress over his 2010 bankruptcy, the resulting seizure of his house and property (pickup truck, handguns, wine refrigerator, wife’s wedding ring), his ensuing 2011 divorce from his wife and loss of custody of his children (which preceded his actions on November 18), may have played some role in his rash decision to attack the unarmed and seated students. Since his suspension Pike has repeatedly changed his phone number and e-mail address. He’s also lived in various locations; presently he resides with his parents.

Finally, according to a story by Cory Golden in the November 29 edition of the UC Davis Enterprise, Pike has been “taking part in an EMT program, scheduled to be completed in January [2014], and said he would pursue classes as a nursing assistant and registered nurse.” (His demonstrated compassion and empathy with others, along with his decision-making skills in crisis situations, surely qualify him for such a role.)

I’ll have some suggestions for alternative career moves that Pike could consider in my next post.

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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