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UC Davis pepper-spray incident gets an F

Five months after a police officer became a meme after dousing student protesters with pepper spray at the University of California-Davis, a new report released

Five months after a police officer became a meme after dousing student protesters with pepper spray at the University of California-Davis, a new report released last Wednesday has concluded that the incident “should and could have been prevented.” The released report documents the result of an investigation led by Cruz Reynoso, UC Davis Professor Emeritus and former Justice of the California Supreme Court, and an appointed task force to review the incident.

The pepper spray was used on those student protesters on campus as UC police officers were arresting students for erecting tents on the campus quad. The student protest and occupation was in response to dramatic increases in tuition and fees, which have nearly doubled in the last five years, and was also fueled by the momentum of the nationwide Occupy movements.

The Reynoso report acknowledges the purpose of the November protest at UC Davis, and also notes that UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi was worried about the large number of non-student protesters occupying the UC Davis Quad. Chancellor Katehi, the report says, “did not effectively communicate” her expectations of the university police when she sent them to remove protesters’ tents:

When decisions were made, they were not sufficiently articulated. As a result, the decisions were not fully understood, or the decisions were understood to mean different things to different people.  For example, when the Leadership Team decided that the police operation should not be “like Berkeley,” Chancellor Katehi understood this to mean “no violence,” while Vice Chancellor Meyer understood it to mean no batons and believed that “hands-on” use of force by police was acceptable.

(Much more after the jump.)

Also, it states that the timing of the tent removal operation was poorly planned, and that those orders were also not communicated well:

... it is clear from the interviews that two things occurred on this call: first, the Chancellor suggested the afternoon operation and stressed that she wanted the tents down before Friday evening; second, that the Chief of Police did not succeed in communicating to the Leadership Team the gravity of the potential problems associated with conducting the operation in the afternoon.

The news for the UC Davis Police Department doesn't get better, as the report stated also that they acted prematurely and entered the Quad to remove tents before considering other alternatives, and that the use of pepper spray "does not appear to have been an objectively reasonable use of force." And it singles out administrators and campus leaders that the task force deemed responsible for the incident and concludes with recommendations for the UC Davis Police and the entire University of California system in the face of more student-led protests in the future.

UC Davis administration and police officers aren’t alone in undergoing criticism for its response to student activism over the last few years:

  • In 2009, massive protests at the UCLA campus in response to a 32 percent mid-year fee increase saw students clash with UC police officers, and images of officers using tasers and batons on students spread.
  • In 2010, 11 Muslim students at UC Irvine were arrested by campus police for disrupting a speech on campus by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. They were later tried charged with criminal activity by the Orange County District Attorney’s office and 10 were found guilty by a jury.
  • In 2011, around the same time of the pepper spray incident at UC Davis, UC police officers at a UC Berkeley protest were filmed beating students and faculty members.

In a message to the UC Davis community, Chancellor Katehi thanked the Reynoso task force for their investigation and said that she is committed to meeting with lawmakers and community members to find solutions to reforming campus police operations across the state.