The riot-clad police officer who pepper sprayed a row of peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters at a California university last week is a retired U.S. Marine sergeant who has been honored for his police work on campus, but also has figured in a previous discrimination suit against the university.
Lt. John Pike was hired onto the University of California, Davis police force in 2001. Now, as one of four lieutenants, he supervises more than one-third of the sworn officers on the suburban campus near Sacramento, including the investigations unit.
Pike has been honored twice for meritorious service, including a 2006 incident in which he decided against using pepper spray on a campus hospital patient who was threatening his colleagues with scissors.
But an alleged anti-gay slur by Pike also figured in a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit a former police officer filed against the department, which ended in a $240,000 settlement in 2008.
Footage of Pike and another officer in riot gear dousing the demonstrators has sparked national outrage since it began circulating Friday night. Both officers and the police chief were placed on administrative leave over the weekend, and campus officials have promised a wide-ranging investigation into the incident.
Images of the lieutenant also have become the subject of a popular blog, which features his image superimposed on famous paintings and spraying famous figures, from Gandhi to John F. Kennedy. The handcraft site Etsy.com also is selling a t-shirt emblazoned with Pike's image, but showing flowers coming out of his spray can.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi identified Pike as one of the officers involved in the pepper-spray incident in an interview with the campus television station on Sunday, and university communications staff confirmed his role Tuesday morning.
Shortly after the incident, the hacker group Anonymous, which is affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, posted on its website Pike's phone number and other personal details.
Pike did not immediately return a message left Tuesday at a home addressed listed in Roseville, a Sacramento suburb.
Tuesday, student government leaders on campus condemned the use of pepper spray on student protesters and called for Katehi to resign if she fails to enact reforms.
“Major reforms are needed because regardless of whoever is fired or resigns, it won't mean anything if we don't change policy and the way our institutions are run,” Adam Thongsavat, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, Davis said in an interview. “That's what's going to affect students and campus policy and bring awareness.”
The students passed a resolution Monday night calling on the state Attorney General's Office to investigate campus police misconduct. The students are demanding police go through sensitivity training, seek more student representation and review policies on student protests.
Katehi has already asked the Yolo County District Attorney's Office to investigate and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven confirmed Tuesday that the department will look into the matter.
Attorney General Kamala Harris was deeply disturbed by the videos of the incident, spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill said Tuesday.
“She's confident they will conduct a quick and thorough investigation of the matter,” Gledhill said.
On Tuesday, about 50 tents formed an encampment on the site where the pepper-spraying happened as students went about going to class. Katehi showed up unexpectedly and asked to address students and occupiers during their general assembly meeting. She left after waiting about 30 minutes for her chance to speak.
The chancellor is expected to make opening remarks Tuesday evening at a town hall meeting for students.
Burke reported from San Francisco.