CA university slammed for pepper-spraying students

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Geoffrey Wildanger, one of the students pepper sprayed by campus police officers at UC-Davis last November, questions members of a task force that looked into the incident, during a town hall style meeting held at the school on Wednesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — State lawmakers are calling for greater oversight of campus police departments after investigators blasted administrators and officers at the University of California, Davis, for pepper-spraying demonstrators — a police action that drew widespread criticism after a video went viral.

In a report released Wednesday, a UC Davis task force said the decision to douse seated Occupy protesters with the eye-stinging chemical was “objectively unreasonable” and not authorized by campus policy.

“The pepper-spraying incident that took place on Nov. 18, 2011, should and could have been prevented,” concluded the task force created to investigate the confrontation.

The chemical crackdown prompted widespread condemnation, campus protests and calls for the resignation of Chancellor Linda Katehi after videos shot by witnesses were widely played online. Images of an officer casually spraying orange pepper-spray in the faces of nonviolent protesters became a rallying point for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, who sits on the UC Board of Regents, said in a statement that the report “shows the systemic and administrative problems that led up to an outrageous and excessive use of force against peaceful student demonstrators.”

Perez, D-Los Angeles, said he would work with the UC board and state Legislature to make sure UC Davis officials are held accountable in addressing the report’s “very troubling revelations.”

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Democrat whose district includes UC Berkeley, also said she would pursue legislation based on the report’s recommendations to improve the training, organization and operation of campus
police departments.

The task force blamed the the incident on poor planning, communication and decision-making at all levels of the school administration, from Katehi to Police Chief Annette Spicuzza to Lt. John Pike, the main officer seen in the online videos.

Pike and other officers said they needed to use pepper-spray to break through a hostile crowd, but the investigation determined police were able to step over the seated protesters and walk through the throng of onlookers, according to the report.

“There was really no reason, we conclude, to have used the pepper spray,” Cruz Reynoso, a retired California Supreme Court justice who chaired the task force, said at a campus forum where the panel presented its findings and
recommendations.

The report also said Pike used a pepper-spray canister that was larger than the one campus police officers are authorized and trained to use.

Printed on Friday, April 13, 2012 as: UC-Davis pepper spray incident puts campus police techniques under fire