Police Names in Pepper Spray Incident Must Be Disclosed

The University of California must disclose the names of a dozen officers in the controversial pepper spraying of UC Davis students peacefully protesting the increase in college costs in 2011, a state appeals court held Tuesday.

The First District Court of Appeals sided with media groups, including the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento bee newspapers, which sought the names of officers that had been redacted in two reports commissioned by the UC Board of Regents.

It did stay immediate release of the names to give the police officers’ union time to appeal to the state Supreme Court, if they choose.

The reports studied a November 18, 2011 incident at Davis in which Lt. John Pike was videotaped methodically pepper spraying demonstrators seated in a nonviolent protest of rising college costs.

The videotape “went viral” on the Internet, triggering widespread criticism of police handling of the protest.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso chaired a task force that examined the incident and recommend improved police procedures to ensure protesters’ rights are protected in the future.

In the second report by Kroll consulting, investigators questioned 14 UC police officers about the pepper spray incident, but none of the 14 were the target of any citizen complaints or subject of any internal affairs investigation as a result of their role in the incident.

The police appeal argued that the names should be withheld to protect the confidentiality and privacy of the officers questioned.  The appeal court said the law only protects against the release of names if the officers are subjects of an investigation or discipline.  These officers were not in that category, according to the court.

Kroll consulting company cited three types of failures that led to the incident: “failures of leadership, failures of communication and failures of documentation.”

The Reynoso Task Force derived its facts entirely from the Kroll report.  The Task Force found, “The pepper-spray incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented.”  It assigned responsibility on the UC Davis administration and the police officers on duty that day.

Both reports withheld the names and ranks of all the officers, both witnesses and subject officers, except two names that were widely known, Pike and then-UC Davis police chief Annette Spicuzza.

Media groups began seeking disclosure of the names shortly after the reports were filed.

They relied on the California Public Records Act to seek release of the names.

In the past, the state Supreme Court has said “maximum disclosure of the conduct of governmental operations” is necessary, the panel noted.

There is no question the officers in the reports are covered by the CPRA’s public records.  “Consequently, the information requested by the newspapers must be disclosed unless the proponent of nondisclosure,” the officers’ union, can show one of the exceptions applies, the court said.

The records are neither personnel or investigation records, according to the court, so may not be withheld.

Case: Federated University Police Officers Ass’n. v. Sup. Ct. Alameda, No. A136014