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L.A. Times, Sacramento Bee sue for officers’ names in UC Davis pepper-spray case

May 23, 2012 |  5:13 pm

Pepper-spray

The Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee filed suit Wednesday against the University of California Board of Regents demanding the release of officers’ names removed from a critical report on the controversial pepper-spraying of UC Davis students.

The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, contends that when university officials agreed in a court settlement last month to redact all but two names they “failed to represent the interests of the press and public,” leaving the newspapers with “no choice but to bring this petition to protect the public’s right of access to this important information.”

The use of pepper spray by UC Davis police against students opposing tuition hikes last November triggered international outrage when videos of Lt. John Pike casually dousing seated protesters went viral. It also prompted soul-searching by university officials, who convened a task force headed by retired state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso to analyze the incident.

Wednesday’s litigation is the latest tussle over transparency in the matter. Earlier this year, the Federated University Police Officers Assn. sought to block public release of much of the Reynoso report and an accompanying probe by the Kroll consulting firm, contending that the information was equivalent to protected  “personnel” material.

UC officials argued for the full release of the reports.

In the end, an Alameda County Superior Court judge rejected most of the union’s legal arguments, but agreed that the names of most officers should be redacted. Only the names of Pike and former UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza – whose identities were widely known -- were left in view.

UC officials said they acquiesced to the settlement last month in order to get the already-delayed report, which concluded that the incident “could and should have been prevented,”  into the hands of the public. But reporters for the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times continued to pursue access to the names under the California Public Records Act.

In denying the newspapers’ requests, UC officials said the judge’s permanent injunction barred them from revealing the names.

However, the petition filed Wednesday notes that Judge Evelio Grillo made a point of stressing that “the judgment would not affect any obligation of the regents to provide the redacted information as required by law.

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--Lee Romney in San Francisco

Photo: UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters in November 2011. Credit: Wayne Tilcock / The Associated Press

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