Pepper spray report critical of UC Davis police
Officers involved in the operation said they needed to use pepper spray to break through a crowd
By Terence Chea
SAN FRANCISCO — A University of California task force said Wednesday that UC Davis police should not have used pepper-spray on student demonstrators in an incident that prompted national outrage and calls for the chancellor's resignation after online videos of the confrontation went viral.
The decision by officers to douse a line of seated Occupy protesters with the eye-stinging chemical was "objectively unreasonable" and not authorized by campus policy, according to the report by a UC Davis task force created to investigate the incident.
"The pepper-spraying incident that took place on Nov. 18, 2011, should and could have been prevented," the task force concluded in the long-awaited report.
Lt. John Pike and other officers involved in the operation have 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 a throng of onlookers.
The report said Pike, who was not interviewed by task force investigators, used a pepper-spray canister that was larger than the one campus police officers are authorized and trained to use.
The task force also blamed poor communication and planning throughout the campus chain of command, from Chancellor Linda Katehi to Police Chief Annette Spicuzza to Pike, the main officer shown in the widely viewed online video.
The task force blamed the chancellor for not clearly communicating to her subordinates that police should avoid physical force on the protesters. It also said she was responsible for the decision to deploy police on a Friday afternoon, rather than wait until early morning as Spicuzza recommended.
The report chided the police chief for failing to challenge the timing of the operation and not providing clear instructions to the responding officers.
The task force, led by retired California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, was scheduled to present the report at a public meeting at UC Davis on Wednesday afternoon. School administrators said they would not comment on the report until after that meeting.
Mark Yudof, who heads the 10-campus system, said he planned to meet with Katehi to discuss implementation of the recommendations.
A separate university task force is working on a report on how school officials should respond to student protests at all 10 UC campuses, he said.
"Free speech, including nonviolent protest, is part of the DNA of this university, and it must be protected with vigilance," Yudof said in a statement. "I implore students who wish to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful fashion, and I expect campus authorities to honor that right."
An attorney for the campus police officers union did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Pike and other officers involved in the incident.
UC Davis published the task force findings and recommendations online a day after a judge approved its release without the names of most officers involved in the clash.
The report was originally set for release March 6, but the campus police officers' union sued to keep the document under wraps. It claimed the report contained confidential personnel records that should not be publicly released under state law.
Alameda County Judge Evelio Grillo ruled last month that the university could release the entire report but must redact the names of all officers except Pike and Spicuzza, whose identities became known during media coverage.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press