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Pepper spraying Calif. officer previously honored

DAVIS, Calif. (AP) — The police officer who pepper-sprayed a row of peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters at a California university last week is a retired U.S. Marine sergeant who has been honored for his police work on campus, but he also figured in a discrimination lawsuit against the university.

Lt. John Pike has risen swiftly through the ranks of the University of California, Davis, police force over the last decade. Now, as one of four lieutenants, the 39-year-old supervises more than one-third of the sworn officers on the suburban campus near Sacramento, including the investigations unit.

Footage of Pike and another officer clad in riot gear casually spraying an orange cloud at protesters’ heads has sparked national outrage since it began circulating online Friday night. Students gathered on campus Tuesday for the second time in as many days to condemn the violence, and they urged university officials to require police to attend sensitivity trainings.

Pike has twice been honored by the university for exceptional police work, including a 2006 incident in which he tackled a scissor-wielding hospital patient who was threatening fellow officers. Afterward, he said he decided against using pepper spray because it might harm his colleagues or other hospital patients.

But an alleged anti-gay slur by Pike also figured in a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit a former police officer filed against the department, which ended in a $240,000 settlement in 2008. Officer Calvin Chang’s 2003 discrimination complaint against the university’s police chief and the UC Board of Regents alleged he was systematically marginalized as the result of anti-gay and racist attitudes on the force, and he specifically claimed Pike described him using a profane anti-gay epithet.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi identified Pike as one of the officers involved in the pepper-spray incident in an interview with the campus television station Sunday, and university communications staff confirmed his role Tuesday morning.

As the controversy over the spraying incident has grown, images of the lieutenant have become the subject of a popular blog, which features his image superimposed on famous paintings and spraying famous figures, from Gandhi to John F. Kennedy. The handcraft site Etsy.com also is selling a T-shirt emblazoned with Pike’s image but showing flowers coming out of his spray can.

Over the weekend, the hacker group Anonymous, which is affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, posted on its website Pike’s phone number and other personal details.

Pike did not immediately return a message left Tuesday at a home address listed in Roseville, a Sacramento suburb.

Records show Pike joined the Marines in November 1989, and by the time he left, he had been promoted to sergeant.

In 2003, two years after Pike joined the campus police force, he received his first meritorious service award for using his patrol car to bump a suspect’s vehicle onto a local highway ramp, stopping the man from driving the wrong way.

Four years later, the university’s press office issued a release about accolades Pike received after subduing a UC Davis Medical Center patient who was threatening a fellow officer with scissors and a spray bottle filled a caustic chemical.

Pike saw the scissors-wielding patient try to assault an officer and landed “a body block, powering his left shoulder” into her, the release said.

But in that situation, the 245-pound Pike opted not to use pepper spray, because he didn’t want to hurt his fellow officers, Pike said.

“You’ve got all these tools on your belt but sometimes they’re not the best tools,” Pike said.

Tuesday, state lawmakers announced they would hold a hearing on the pepper-spraying incident. Assembly Speaker John Perez sent a letter to the University of California Board of Regents chairwoman Sherry Lansing and UC President Mark Yudof asking for a system-wide investigation.

“Students, parents and the public deserve to have answers to the myriad of troubling questions these incidents have raised,” Perez said in a statement.

Student government leaders on campus condemned the use of pepper spray on student protesters and called for Katehi to resign if she fails to enact reforms.

“Major reforms are needed because regardless of whoever is fired or resigns, it won’t mean anything if we don’t change policy and the way our institutions are run,” Adam Thongsavat, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, Davis, said in an interview. “That’s what’s going to affect students and campus policy and bring awareness.”

The students passed a resolution Monday night calling on the state attorney general’s office to investigate campus police misconduct. The students are demanding police go through sensitivity training, seek more student representation and review policies on student protests.

Katehi has already asked the Yolo County district attorney’s office to investigate, and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven confirmed Tuesday that the department will look into the matter.

Attorney General Kamala Harris was deeply disturbed by the videos of the incident, spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill said Tuesday.

“She’s confident they will conduct a quick and thorough investigation of the matter,” Gledhill said.

On Tuesday, about 50 tents formed an encampment on the site where the pepper-spraying happened as students went about going to class. Katehi showed up unexpectedly and asked to address students and occupiers during their general assembly meeting. She left after waiting about 30 minutes for her chance to speak.

The chancellor is expected to make opening remarks Tuesday evening at a town hall meeting for students.

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Burke reported from San Francisco.

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