Linda Katehi

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

SAN FRANCISCO — As video spread of an officer in riot gear blasting pepper spray into the faces of seated protesters at a northern California university, outrage came quickly — followed almost as quickly by defense from police and calls for the chancellor’s resignation.

University of California Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said in a statement Saturday she was forming a task force to investigate the police action and the video images she said were “chilling.”

However, a law enforcement official who watched the clip called the use of force “fairly standard police procedure.”

In the video, an officer dispassionately pepper-sprays a line of several sitting protesters who flinch and cover their faces but remain passive with their arms interlocked as onlookers shriek and scream out for the officer to stop.

As the images were circulated widely on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on Saturday, the university’s faculty association called on Katehi to resign, saying in a letter there had been a “gross failure of leadership.”

At a news conference, Katehi said what the video shows is, “sad and really very inappropriate” but defended her leadership and said she had no plans to resign.

“I do not think that I have violated the policies of the institution,” she said. “I have worked personally very hard to make this campus a safe campus for all.”

Katehi remained in a media room for more than two hours after the news conference, eventually walking to an SUV past a group of students nearly three blocks long who, in a coordinated effort, remained completely silent. The Sacramento Bee said.

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 on Nov. 9.

Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department’s use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a “compliance tool” that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters.

“When you start picking up human bodies, you risk hurting them,” Kelly said. “Bodies don’t have handles on them.”

After reviewing the video, Kelly said he observed at least two cases of “active resistance” from protesters. In one instance, a woman pulls her arm back from an officer. In the second instance, a protester curls into a ball. Each of those actions could have warranted more force, including baton strikes and pressure-point techniques.

“What I’m looking at is fairly standard police procedure,” Kelly said.

Images of police actions have served to galvanize support during the Occupy Wall Street movement, from the clash between protesters and police in Oakland last month that left an Iraq War veteran with serious injuries to more recent skirmishes in New York City, San Diego, Denver and Portland, Ore.

Some of the most notorious instances went viral online, including the use of pepper spray on an 84-year-old activist in Seattle and a group of women in New York. Seattle’s mayor apologized to the activist, and the New York Police Department official shown using pepper spray on the group of women lost 10 vacation days after an internal review.

In the video of the UC Davis protest, the officer, a member of the university police force, displays a bottle before spraying its contents on the seated protesters in a sweeping motion while walking back and forth. Most of the protesters have their heads down, but several were hit directly in the face.

Some members of a crowd gathered at the scene scream and cry out. The crowd then chants, “Shame on You,” as the protesters on the ground are led away. The officers retreat minutes later with helmets on and batons drawn.

Ten people were arrested.

Nine students hit by pepper spray were treated at the scene, two were taken to hospitals and later released, university officials said.

They declined to release the officer’s name.

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said the decision to use pepper spray was made at the scene.

“The students had encircled the officers,” she said Saturday. “They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out.”

Many Twitter and Facebook comments supported the students and criticized the response.

“Stomach churning video of police using pepper spray on seated anti-Wall Street protesters in Davis, Calif.,” actress Mia Farrow wrote in a retweet of the video.

Elsewhere in California, police arrested six Occupy San Francisco protesters early Sunday and dismantled a tent encampment in front of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Officer Albie Esparza says police and city crews took down about 12 tents. The six were arrested on charges of interfering with officers.

The raid came several hours after police and public works crews removed dozens of tents from the nearby Occupy camp at Justin Herman Plaza.

Earlier, several hundred protesters in Oakland tore down a chain-link fence surrounding a city-owned vacant lot and set up a new encampment five days after their main camp near City Hall was torn down.

“They obviously don’t want us at the plaza downtown. We might as well make this space useful,” Chris Skantz, 23, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Occupy Oakland protesters breached the fence and poured into the lot next to the Fox Theater on Telegraph Avenue, police said in a statement.

The protesters passed a line of police surrounding the lot without a struggle, used wire cutters to take down the fence and pulled down “no trespassing” signs the Chronicle reported.

Police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said surrounding streets had been closed and officers were protecting surrounding buildings.

Watson said there had been no arrests or citations, but the city’s position remains that no camping will be allowed and protesters can’t stay overnight.