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In 2011, an incident between a University of California, Davis policeman and student protesters generated widespread outrage. During a peaceful sit-in demonstration against tuition hikes, former UC Davis police officer John Pike pepper-sprayed 21 students seated on the ground directly in their faces. A video of the officer’s conduct went viral, generating millions of views on YouTube and even sparking an Internet meme. In the video, Pike can be seen aiming a can of pepper spray at close range to faces of protesters and discharging the chemical compound within inches of the students’ bodies.
Last fall, the Regents of the University of California and the group of students injured in the incident entered into a settlement agreement that ended the students’ lawsuit brought against the school in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. According to reports about the settlement, the students’ lawyers received $250,000. Each of the students named in the suit received $30,000 for their injuries.

A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union stated that the settlement allowed students to “get a measure of compensation for the pain, nightmares, and panic attacks” they suffered after the incident. In addition to the monetary compensation awarded to each of the plaintiffs, the UC Davis Chancellor was required to write personal apology notes to the students for any injuries or damages they may have incurred as a result of the incident.


Last week, the pepper spray incident was in the news again. When was revealed that John Pike was awarded $38,056 in workers’ compensation settlement with the University of California, commentators were upset to learn that he would receive more than the students he injured.


According to a news report about the workers’ compensation award, Pike claimed that he had “psychiatric damage” as a result of the event. Pike said he suffered mental distress after he received nearly 20,000 angry and/or threatening emails about the incident. He also claims that he received 10,000 text messages and hundreds of letters, videos, images, and news of the pepper-spraying spread across the globe.


Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides wage replacement and/or medical benefits to employees injured in the course of their employment. Some workers who receive workers’ compensation after an injury must give up rights to sue employers in court for negligence.


In July 2012, Pike was suspended and ultimately left the UC Davis police force. University officials did not make the circumstances of his departure public. An investigation of the incident found that university officials and UC Davis police officers used excessive force during the confrontation. For more information about the event, you can read this 190-page document (PDF) compiled by a task force.


A statement by a UC Davis spokesperson said that the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board settlement was resolved in accordance with state law and legal processes on workers’ compensation.


This guest post was contributed by: James Murphy, a partner at McCormick & Murphy, P.C.

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