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Judge calls for near-complete release of UC pepper-spray report

He sides with a police union only in granting a preliminary injunction to withhold the names of all but two officers involved in the Occupy-related incident last fall.

March 29, 2012|By Lee Romney and Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • This image of UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike using pepper spray on Occupy protesters last November quickly went viral.
This image of UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike using pepper spray on Occupy protesters… (Wayne Tilcock / Associated…)

OAKLAND — A judge Wednesday rejected nearly all attempts by a campus police union to block release of portions of a report on the November pepper-spraying of UC Davis students by university officers.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo disagreed with assertions that large chunks of the report — designed to scrutinize the day's events and craft new policy — should be sealed because they contain the same kind of information as in officer personnel files compiled for disciplinary purposes. He also rejected union arguments that officers named in the report have a constitutional right to privacy.

"The court is not persuaded that either the Legislature or the California Supreme Court intended [the law protecting officer information] to apply whenever public entities investigated law enforcement policies, procedures or actions," Grillo wrote, "and to preclude all public entities from disclosing the results of those investigations if they touched on the conduct of individual police officers."

Grillo sided with the union only in granting a preliminary injunction to withhold the names of all but two officers. He excluded Lt. John Pike because images of him casually dousing seated protesters had already gone viral on the Internet, and UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza, whose identity is widely known.

UC officials and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which are seeking full public access to the report, will have an opportunity to press for disclosure of the names at trial.

The much anticipated full report — commissioned by UC officials in the interest of transparency — won't be available to the public until at least April 23, pending possible appeal. Although Grillo has allowed UC to immediately release uncontested portions, officials said Wednesday they are unsure whether they will do so because the extent of the redacted material could slant the report's overall tone.

The Nov. 18 incident took place as part of an Occupy movement protest and triggered an internal affairs investigation. UC officials confirmed Wednesday that five officers are facing disciplinary probes and 15 to 20 are named in the report.

The university separately convened a task force headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso to make recommendations regarding police procedures. Kroll Associates, a security consulting firm, was retained to collect information on the incident and make policy suggestions.

Only witness officers — not those subject to discipline — were interviewed for Kroll's report, and they were granted immunity. But the union argued that all material regarding the officers' conduct should be sealed. They agreed only to the release of sections dealing with administrators' actions and policy.

UC General Counsel Charles Robinson said he would consult with Reynoso about whether to release that uncontested portion in coming days. Between one-fourth and one-third of the Reynoso report and a little over half of the Kroll report would still be blacked out, he said.

ACLU attorney Michael Risher argued in court that all names should be public. (Lawyers for the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times also filed briefs seeking access to the full report.) Robinson said UC officials agree and will consider whether to appeal that issue. But he expressed general satisfaction with Wednesday's ruling.

"We think it largely represents what we argued," he said outside the Oakland courtroom.

John Bakhit, an attorney for the Federated University Police Officers Assn., said he would consult with his clients before deciding whether to appeal. "We obviously don't agree" with Grillo's overall conclusions, he said, but "I still would consider it a win for our officers because we can protect their safety."

The union submitted a declaration from Pike stating that he received hundreds of letters, and more than 10,000 text messages and 17,000 emails, most of them "threatening or derogatory," as well as unsolicited home deliveries of food, magazines and other products. Grillo agreed there was a likelihood other officers could face similar issues.

Meanwhile, officials at a UC regents meeting in San Francisco disclosed that they are working to finish a separate report that looks at the best ways to handle future campus protests.

UC Berkeley law school Dean Christopher Edley, one of the study leaders, told regents he expects a draft to be released next month for public comment. The report does not investigate the pepper-spray incident or the use of batons by UC Berkeley police on demonstrators the same month, though Edley said those controversies led to his study. Instead, he said, it is "forward looking" and will examine such things as freedom of expression, police training and de-escalation techniques, and will develop recommendations for administrators, police and students.

lee.romney@latimes.com

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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