Back in 2011, when Occupy Wall Street protests roiled dozens of college campuses, I published a series of articles about an egregious instance of police brutality at UC Davis, where Lieutenant John Pike, acting under ambiguous orders from superiors, used an unapproved pepper-spray device to chemically assault student activists, who were assembled peacefully and lawfully on a campus quad during the daytime.
At first, lots of news outlets covered the story, but as it faded from the headlines, I kept attempting to hold the culpable parties accountable by publishing followup articles about the findings of an official investigation, the staggering amount of time it took for Pike to be terminated, and the obscene fact that he wound up with a bigger payout than any of his victims. I hoped that the public––especially voters, UC administrators, and legislators here in California––would take notice and act to improve evident flaws in the system.
Imagine how vexing it is to find out, several years later, that after journalists like me worked to document this matter, UC Davis “contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings” on the pepper-spraying and “to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.” So reports The Sacramento Bee, adding that UC Davis signed a 6-month contract with a PR company at a rate of $15,000 per month, and that one objective described in the company’s proposal was the “eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google for the university and the Chancellor."