Pepper-Spraying Campus Cop Awarded $38,000 For 'Psychiatric Injury'
A video of Officer John Pike pepper-spraying demonstrators at UC Davis went viral in 2011
You just never know when your job will leave you under the glare of the national spotlight. Two years ago, activists organized the Occupy movement throughout the country to call attention to growing economic inequality in the United States. The rallies resulted in broad security oversight and response. One incident in November 2011 at the University of California, Davis, became a symbol of the divide between the movement and their myriad targets. A now-famous video captured Lt. John Pike of the UC Davis campus police as he calmly pepper-sprayed nonviolent protesters after they'd sat down and refused orders to leave.
The video went viral, as did photoshopped images depicting Pike and his pepper spray in famous scenes from history and art. The demonstration by Occupy UC Davis was part of a series of protests there against tuition hikes, as well as what demonstrators felt was excessive force being used by police to break up previous rallies.
Pike was just awarded $38,000 in workers' compensation by the state university for the pain and suffering that he endured as a result of the experience. He said that he received more than 17,000 angry or threatening emails, 10,000 text messages and hundreds of letters attacking him for his conduct. The reaction caused him both depression and anxiety, he claimed, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. His award was the result of a workers' compensation claim that he filed over the summer, reported The Davis Enterprise.
The decision adds a new chapter to Pike's experience after his confrontation with the Occupy movement. He was suspended with pay from his job just after the incident, while it was being investigated, and remained on leave until his employment there ended last summer. While the campus refused to comment then about the reason, citing confidentiality, the Sacramento Bee quoted Pike as saying that he'd been terminated from his job. The paper also reported his annual salary as $110,243.12, as of 2010.
Why was he given the award? The state Division of Workers' Compensation Appeals Board said the ruling "resolves all claims of psychiatric injury specific or due to continuous trauma from applicant's employment at UC Davis." The decision, "is in line with permanent impairment as calculated by the state's disability evaluation unit," UC Davis spokesman Andy Fell told the Chronicle.
UC Davis, for its part, appears to be willing to pony up for all involved parties. The group of demonstrators were awarded $1 million, which left each with about $30,000 a piece, said The Associated Press. This latest decision "sends a clear message to the next officer nervously facing off with a group of passive, unarmed students: Go on ahead. Brutalize them. Trample their rights," a local attorney and advocate for the demonstrators, Bernie Goldsmith, told the AP.
Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
Follow Dan on Twitter. Email Dan at email@example.com. Add Dan to your Google+ circles.