Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Task Force Criticizes Pepper Spraying of U-C Davis Protesters

April 11, 2012

Campus Task Force Criticizes Pepper Spraying of Protesters

New York Times

LOS ANGELES — Police officers at the University of California, Davis, should not have used pepper spray on protesters who had set up camp in the middle of campus as part of the Occupy movement last November, according to an investigation of the episode by a campus task force.

In a 190-page report released Wednesday, the task force concluded that “the pepper spraying incident that took place on Nov. 18, 2011, should and could have been prevented.” The report details a pattern of miscommunication and describes campus leadership as inadequate.

The episode last fall garnered worldwide attention, particularly on social media, as images showed Lt. John Pike of the campus police calmly releasing pepper spray on seemingly peaceful protesters sitting on the ground.

Campus police had sued to prevent the report’s release, saying that it amounted to an internal investigation, and subsequent court hearings delayed the release of the report by more than a month. The university agreed to remove the names of most police officers from the report.

According to the report, administrators repeatedly said they were particularly concerned that protesters who did not attend U.C. Davis would flood the campus and endanger students. The campus police chief, Annette Spicuzza, estimated that 80 percent of protesters camping in the campus quad were not students. But that was challenged by student affairs administrators, who had spent time talking with the protesters and said that the vast majority of campers were students. The investigation found that the counterargument was largely ignored and administrators reiterated their concern for students.

“We were worried especially about having very young girls and other students with older people who come from the outside without any knowledge of their record,” Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi told investigators. “If anything happens to any student while we’re in violation of policy, it’s a very tough thing to overcome.”

The task force concluded that the concern for outsiders threatening safety was “not supported by any evidence.” The investigation also found that even if the concern for safety was valid, it “would not justify ordering the immediate dismantling of the encampment” and that alternatives should have been considered.

The report also blames Chancellor Katehi for not effectively communicating that she expected a “limited operation” in which the police demanded that the tents be taken down, with the instruction that they “use no other force.” No administrator took responsibility to understand how the police operation would be handled. While Chief Spicuzza told her officers not to wear riot gear, they did so anyway. Several police officers said past experience had led them to predict the use of batons and pepper spray.

The police were also urged to start the operation at night, but interpreted the chancellor’s comments as a demand to begin removing the tents at 3 p.m. Friday, just a few days after they were erected. The report said that the legal basis for removing the tents during the day remained unclear, since a prohibition applied only to overnight camping.

The task force was led by Cruz Reynoso, a law professor at U.C. Davis and a former California Supreme Court justice, and relied heavily on an investigation by Knoll, a private firm hired by the University of California.

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