The Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times are suing the University of California Board of Regents for the names of all police officers involved in the November pepper spray incident at UC Davis. City on a Hill Press fully supports the publications’ joint effort, especially given the general lack of transparency endemic in the UC system.
For a week or so leading up to Thanksgiving last year, all eyes were on UC Davis, perhaps for the first time. The campus previously considered a sleepy, docile cousin to UCs Santa Cruz and Berkeley had been rocked by a scandal involving the brutal pepper-spraying of several seemingly peaceful protesters.
The Bee and the Times, along with scores of other news outlets, were quick to report the names of then-UCD police chief Annette Spicuzza, as well as Lt. John Pike, the only pepper-spraying officer caught on tape.
But any hopes the newspapers had of running the names of all officers involved in the decision and action of pepper-spraying were dashed when the Federated University Police Officers Association, the union representing campus police officers, won a lawsuit that effectively redacted the names of all officers but Spicuzza and Pike in the task force study of the incident, released in April.
The regents stuck to this redaction, ignoring the publications’ requests through the California Public Records Act for all the names.
The UC failing to provide public records — sound familiar? It should, given that just last year, non-profit organization Californians Aware gave the UC system an average score of 46 out of 100 in its compliance with public records requests — an “ F.” If releasing public records was a class, the university wouldn’t pass.
On this issue, City on a Hill can very much relate to its more senior newspapers. In October of 2009, former City on a Hill reporter Dana Burd requested public records from UCSC pertaining to the budget, and was met with much bureaucratic stalling.
“[The administration] didn’t treat it as a responsibility they had, but a hardship,” Burd said.
Burd didn’t receive all the information she requested until 2011, after persisting with several follow-up emails.
Burd’s request was to UCSC specifically, while the Bee and Times are suing the central Board of Regents. Regardless, it’s heartening to see newspapers that have the resources to do so demand action.
“ [T]he idea that government agents can anonymously plan and execute operations using chemical weapons against protesters in the public square is antithetical to the most fundamental notions of democracy, which depend upon public scrutiny of official conduct,” reads the suit, filed May 23 in the Sacramento Superior Court. “ The regents’ withholding of the names of the officers also contradicts California law, which requires officers to wear name tags on their uniforms.”
We look forward to covering the results of this lawsuit, and will remain in strong support of any entity that challenges the UC to lawfully comply with all public records requests. After all, the word “public” is right in the name — clearly, we all have a right to know.