Does California cop who pepper-sprayed Occupy protesters deserve compensation for stress?

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Does California cop who pepper-sprayed Occupy protesters deserve compensation for stress?

Police see a lot of ugly things and it wears on them. Historically, they've been reluctant to seek help in dealing with the stresses of their job.

However, things are changing as the law-enforcement culture becomes more accepting of officers willing to get counselling and therapy.

But I wonder if the campus cop who pepper-sprayed a group of peaceful, seated Occupy protesters two years ago really ought to get worker's compensation for the trauma he's undergone in the wake of his actions.

It's hard to forget the video of University of California Davis officer John Pike casually hosing the huddled protesters, walking down the line as if he was spraying his roses for aphids.

The incident attracted widespread condemnation and ridicule.

The Associated Press now reports Pike, who was fired the following year after a review found his assault unwarranted, is appealing for benefits, claiming the fallout from the online disclosure of his identity caused him psychiatric injury.

Hackers posted Pike's information on the web, AP said, leading to death threats and widespread derision.

Pike is scheduled to have a settlement meeting on his claim next month.

[ Related: Police officers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder a mental health and public safety issue ]

In a country drowning in guns, you have to take death threats seriously. But should Pike be compensated for the consequences of his actions, or should he just suck it up?

Here in Canada, we've had the case of RCMP Const. Bill Bentley, who is charged with perjury for allegedly lying about the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski in 2007.

Bentley and three other Mounties confronted the just-arrived Polish immigrant in the international arrivals area of Vancouver International Airport and, within seconds of arriving, stunned Dziekanski several times. He died of a heart attack shortly afterward. The four officers were charged with perjury for allegedly lying when they testified at the public inquiry into Dziekanski's death.

At a preliminary hearing in June, Bentley broke down in tears several times as he described what happened in the hours after Dziekanski died.

"I was a mess, I was just really upset about the whole incident," said Bentley, who's being tried by judge alone. "I describe it as basically the most traumatic thing in my life."

Bentley and two of the other officers have remained on active duty, though reassigned to RCMP detachments outside the Vancouver area.

Then there's Montreal's infamous "Officer 728," Const. Stephanie Trudeau, suspended last fall after videos surfaced showing her manhandling people over a minor open-liquor infraction.

She'd previously been recorded pepper-spraying bystanders during one of last year's student-tuition protests.

Trudeau has been suspended with pay since October and was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation while the Crown decides whether she should face criminal charges. Whether she gets to wear a badge again is an open question. It wouldn't be surprising if the 19-year veteran resigned to retain her pension.

A Toronto Star look at post-traumatic stress disorder among Ontario Provincial Police officers last year found an increasing willingness among sufferers to stop suppressing their deep psychological wounds. But there was trepidation about the consequences of going public.

“I feel that by my words being made public I am putting my current disability benefits at risk," one officer said in an email to the Star.

"Because of the fact that OPP management exacerbated my current level of disability, those who decide if I continue to receive my benefits could quite easily turn my case into one that prevents their continued approval.”

[ Related: Family members want RCMP to do more for officers with post-traumatic stress ]

Lori Shenher, a lead investigator with Vancouver police into murders committed by serial-killer Robert Pickton, said last year she continued to suffer guilt and despair over not catching him sooner.

While on stress leave, she wrote about her experiences, producing a 289-page manuscript that was to become a book, though it has not been published.

‘It is only now that I recognize all of the signs and signals of burnout and post traumatic stress disorder brought on by doing a horrible job for an unsupportive and incompetent organization,” Shenher wrote a year after Pickton’s arrest in a passage reported by the National Post last year. “I was no longer able to bear the weight of our ineptitude and rationalization.”

Shenher returned to work as a police detective in 2004, the Post said.