Pacific mayor taps ex-police chief at center of pepper-spraying incident

Pacific mayor taps ex-police chief at center of pepper-spraying incident »Play Video
Annette Spicuzza
PACIFIC, Wash. -- Pacific's mayor is once again the subject of controversy with his selection for interim police chief.

Mayor Cy Sun says former University of California-Davis police chief Annette Spicuzza will be in charge while John Calkins is on non-disciplinary leave.

"I'm not looking for in-depth help," Sun said. "What I'm looking for is she will carry us over the crisis that we have now."

Spicuzza made headlines in November, 2011 when she was put on leave as the university's police chief after her officers pepper sprayed demonstrators. Two officers involved in the incident were also placed on leave. Spicuzza says she later retired.

The incident reverberated well beyond the university, with condemnations and defenses of police from elected officials and from the wider public on Facebook and Twitter.

"It went worldwide -- I mean it was international," Spicuzza said. "By the time I woke up that Saturday morning, I had hate mail and death threats from people all over the place."

The protest was held in support of the overall Occupy Wall Street movement and in solidarity with protesters at the University of California, Berkeley who were jabbed by police with batons earlier that month. Nine students hit by pepper spray were treated at the scene, two were taken to hospitals and later released, university officials said. Ten people were arrested.

Spicuzza will lead a dwindling police force in Pacific, that was down to four officers after Calkins and a lieutenant were placed on leave by Sun on March 22, pending an investigation into what Sun called harassment and intimidation.

"I know I put them on administrative leave to avoid a tremendous liability for the city," Sun said.

The mayor said he couldn't discuss specifics about his decision, but said the move wasn't spurred by a complaint from a resident and is meant to protect the two officers.

"It's an internal safety measure," he said.

Spicuzza said she's still getting acclimated to the situation.

"I don't know if they're in trouble here," she said. "I have no idea. I don't know because I haven't gotten through the doors to really look at things and talk to people. I'm sure the officers have one perspective; citizens have another perspective."

Donald Thompson, who is leading a recall effort against Sun, says the hiring decision is no surprise.

"It's falling in line with all his other selections," Thompson said. "They're either not qualified or have shaded pasts."

Others wondered if the hire was even possible.

"You can't hire somebody for a position that's already currently filled with somebody you've put on paid administrative leave," said Tracey Apata, also working to recall Sun.

Thompson says the timing of Sun's decision actually pretty good for his cause because the State Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on their recall petition Thursday.

Spicuzza is familiar with Western Washington, having formerly served on the University of Washington police force.