U.C. Davis Police Chief Takes the Fall for Pepper Spray Mess

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Last week an independent report found all kinds of blame in the U.C. Davis pepper spray incident, from the administration to the police rank and file, but the first real-world casualty is university police chief Annette Spicuzza, who left the force on Wednesday. We're sure she won't be the last, but it's entirely possible the guy at the center of the whole scandal will stay on.

Spicuzza and Lt. John Pike, who did the actual spraying, have been on paid administrative leave since Pike launched himself to memedom by dousing peaceful, sitting protesters with pepper spray. Spicuzza said in an email to The Sacramento Bee that she wanted to put some distance between herself and the incident: "As the university does not want this incident to be its defining moment, nor do I wish for it to be mine. I believe in order to start the healing process, this chapter of my life must be closed." Spicuzza's taking a fall here, after her superior, Chancellor Linda Katehi, threw her under the bus by saying police "defied my orders," and after the report found her subordinate acted improperly.

The report, from a task force headed by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, and another from the consulting firm Kroll, actually found Pike to bear most of the blame for the incident, as The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf points: "Lt. Pike Bears Primary Responsibility for the Objectively Unreasonable Decision to Use Pepper Spray on the Students Sitting in a Line and for the Manner in Which the Pepper Spray Was Used," the Reynoso report found. The students were in the quad legally, and it was the middle of the day. There was actually no legal justification for arresting them and certainly none for pepper-spraying them.

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Pike hasn't stepped down. He's still on paid administrative leave, and even though the reports found he acted "indefensibly," he might not lose his job over the incident because, as Friedersdorf goes on to point out, the due process that goes along with disciplining a university cop is robust, secretive, and difficult. "Basically, California law dictates that all UC Davis can say about its most controversial officer is 'the employment status of the officer, e.g., current employment status and rank.' " So unless Pike quits or gets fired, we may never know what disciplinary action the university takes against him. If any.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.