Notorious pepper-spraying police officer seeks workers’ compensation for mental injuries

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What do the Occupy movement and workers’ compensation have in common?  Lt. John Pike.

According to various news reports coming from California, the former UC Davis police officer -who has filed for workers’ compensation and been denied benefits, apparently–has filed an appeal, claiming that he suffered psychiatric injury as a result of a 2011 confrontation involving peaceful demonstrators on the University of California Davis campus.

In case you missed it, on November 18th, 2011 college students at UC Davis arranged a sit-in to protest both proposed tuition hikes and brutality by campus police against another grou p of demonstrators nine days before. In a move that was widely disparaged later, University Chancellor Linda Katehi authorized police action that afternoon. When police in riot gear arrived to take down tents erected on the campus quad and evict demonstrators from the area, they were met with a group of them sitting on a main walkway with arms linked and heads down. While the peaceful protesters refused to move, they also did not actively provoke officers, two of whom produced canisters of pepper spray and walked calmly down the line, spraying demonstrators two and three times.

The protesters remained passively seated and other officers descended, roughly prying them apart and throwing them to the ground. The crowd surrounding them began to chant, “The whole world is watching!” over and over while several of its members shot video clips of the incident with their cell phones.

These videos of Pike and the other officer dousing demonstrators with pepper spray went viral, causing outrage around the world and bringing even greater attention to the Occupy movement. Pike was quickly identified, and he became a target for the world’s ire with UC Davis and its police force. Pike was ‘doxxed’ –the digital-vigilante practice of releasing a person’s personal data and information to the internet at large as retribution for perceived wrongdoings– by the online hactivist group Anonymous; he also became the subject of widespread internet memes involving him pepper spraying famous people and well-known works of art.

A task force investigation found that Pike’s actions were unwarranted and, in July of 2012, he was fired from his job.

Pike’s sudden notoriety led to many threats against him and spurred an Alameda County Court judge to rule against releasing the names of other officers at the scene, for fear that they would face the same sort of retribution and hazing. In reports on the incident, the names of officers involved were redacted.

Two well-known California papers (The Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee) are seeking all of the officers’ identities. This week a state appeals court ruled that news organizations are entitled to know the names of the twelve University of California officers previously interviewed about pepper spray use against UC Davis demonstrators.

According to the California State Department of Industrial Relations website, Pike has a settlement conference set for mid-August.

Were this a Georgia workers’ compensation claim for psychiatric injury, it would fail, as there doesn’t seem to be any physical injury preceding the psychiatric claim(s).  Let’s see how California treats psych claims under its workers’ comp statute!

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