Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Proposed UC Davis pepper-spray settlement to go before regents - Sacramento Bee

Lawyers for students hit with pepper spray on the UC Davis campus last November have reached a proposed settlement of their lawsuit, and the University of California Board of Regents will consider the deal next week.

Terms of the proposed settlement remain secret, pending approval by the regents in closed session at their Sept. 13 meeting in San Francisco and subsequent approval by a federal court in Sacramento.

But the settlement, if approved, would mark the latest in a lengthy and costly series of expenses sparked by the Nov. 18 incident that has likely totaled over $1 million so far.

The suit was filed in February by a total of 21 plaintiffs â€" 19 students and two former students â€" who were pepper-sprayed after refusing orders by campus police to disperse during a protest against rising tuition costs and other issues.

Sacramento attorney Mark Merin, who filed the suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union, declined to comment Tuesday.

The office of UC President Mark G. Yudof issued a statement late Tuesday saying no information could be released until the settlement details are filed with the U.S. District Court in Sacramento.

"Under mediation and court settlement rules, all of the parties are obligated to maintain strict confidentiality until the proposed agreement has been filed with the court," the statement said. "The terms of any settlement reached will be available to the press with the filing and the parties will be able to discuss the matter publicly at that time."

However, university officials have detailed many of the costs associated with the pepper-spraying so far in response to Public Records Act requests by The Bee and other news organizations.

The Kroll consulting group, hired to do an independent review of the incident, was paid $445,879.40, and Marsh Risk Consulting, hired shortly after the pepper-spraying, was paid $100,000.

The two officers who deployed the pepper spray, Lt. John Pike and Officer Alexander Lee, no longer work for the campus police force but were paid for several months while on paid leave during investigations of the incident.

Pike's annual salary was $121,680 and Lee's was $57,060, the university said.

In addition, an internal affairs investigation into Pike's actions cost the university $230,256.73.

Details of that confidential investigation, obtained last month by The Bee, concluded that Pike acted reasonably, and a subsequent review determined that he should have faced demotion or suspension at worst.

Instead, UC Davis Police Chief Matthew Carmichael decided to fire Pike, notifying him in a letter obtained by The Bee that "the needs of the department do not justify your continued employment."

Still not tallied are the legal costs of a lawsuit filed by The Bee and the Los Angeles Times seeking the names of all officers involved in the pepper-spray incident.

That case is still pending, with the union for campus police fighting release of the officers' names.

The students' federal lawsuit accused UC Davis of violating their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly and sought an injunction "to prevent repetition of such a response to a non-violent protest."

It also sought compensatory and punitive damages "against the individual perpetrators of the illegal acts and their superiors who ordered, directed and/or committed this outrageous conduct."

The proposed settlement was hammered out in closed mediation sessions, including meetings Aug. 15 and 16 before former U.S. District Judge Raul A. Ramirez, according to documents filed in court last month.

Word of the proposed settlement came with the release of the regents' agenda for their finance committee meeting in San Francisco next week.

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Call The Bee's Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.


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