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Pepper spraying Calif. officer previously honored

By Judy Lin

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 22 2011 4:55 p.m. MST

FILE - In this Nov. 18, 2011 file photo, University of California, Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters while blocking their exit from the school's quad in Davis, Calif. Pike, the riot-clad 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 twice honored for his police work on campus.

The Enterprise, Wayne Tilcock, File, Associated Press

DAVIS, Calif. — 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 marginalized as the result of anti-gay and racist attitudes on the force, and he specifically claimed Pike issued a profane anti-gay slur against him.

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 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.

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