Education

Pepper-spraying UC Davis cop gets $38K worker's comp

Officer who sprayed peaceful protesters in the 2011 incident said he suffered mental distress from angry backlash

Then–U.C. Davis officer John Pike pepper-sprays students at an Occupy UCD proest in Davis, Calif., Nov. 18, 2011.
BRIAN NGUYEN/Reuters /Landov

Former University of California, Davis, policeman John Pike, who stirred public outrage by pepper-spraying peaceful student protesters during a 2011 sit-in against tuition hikes, has been awarded just over $38,000 in worker's compensation from the university for what Pike called psychiatric damage.

The ex-officer said he suffered mental distress after receiving more than 17,000 angry or threatening emails, 10,000 text messages and hundreds of letters after news of the pepper-spraying went viral.

Pike, then a campus police lieutenant, came to symbolize law-enforcement aggression against Occupy protests like the U.C. Davis demonstration after video footage widely shown on TV and the Internet showed him casually dousing demonstrators in the face with a can of pepper spray as they sat on the ground.

Pike was suspended and ultimately left the force in July 2012, but university officials did not disclose the circumstances of his departure.

A scathing 190-page report (PDF) on the incident found that university officials and U.C. Davis police used poor judgment and excessive force in the confrontation. The incident was widely mocked in satirical messages posted on the Internet in which still photos of Pike wielding his pepper spray were inserted into famed works of art and pop-culture images.

The university last fall agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit brought on behalf of the 21 students who got sprayed and later reported suffering panic attacks, trauma and academic problems as a result.

In June of this year, Pike filed a worker's-compensation claim with U.C. Davis over the incident, saying he suffered unspecified psychiatric and nervous-system damage, though the document did not explain how he claimed to have been harmed, records show.

On Oct. 16, the state Workers' Compensation Appeals Board agreed to resolve his claim by paying him a settlement totaling $38,056, U.C. Davis spokesman Andy Fell said Wednesday.

"This case has been resolved in accordance with state law and processes on workers' compensation," Fell said in an email message, according to The Davis Enterprise. "The final resolution is in line with permanent impairment as calculated by the state's disability-evaluation unit."

He said he was not at liberty to elaborate on Pike's claim or the circumstances behind it.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Pike had earned more than $110,000 from his job in 2010, citing a database of state workers' salaries from the last year for which figures are available.

U.C. Davis chancellor Linda Katehi had asked prosecutors to look into possible criminal charges against the police officers involved in the pepper-spraying. But the Yolo County District Attorney's office determined there were no grounds on which to bring a case. 

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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