Chancellor’s Hasty Retreat Covers Up Major Errors and Oversights That Directly Caused Fiasco
In the immediate wake of the pepper spraying, the initial response from the leadership at UC Davis was actually to defend the actions of the police.
“The students had encircled the officers,” UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said on Saturday. “They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out.”
Chancellor Katehi immediately issued a statement that seemed to defend the actions of the police, “Following our requests, several of the group chose to dismantle their tents this afternoon and we are grateful for their actions. However a number of protestors refused our warning, offering us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.”
“We are saddened to report that during this activity, 10 protestors were arrested and pepper spray was used,” she said. “We deeply regret that many of the protestors today chose not to work with our campus staff and police to remove the encampment as requested. We are even more saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal,” the chancellor added.
“We appreciate and strongly defend the rights of all our students, faculty and staff to robust and respectful dialogue as a fundamental tenet of our great academic institution. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our entire campus community, including the parents who have entrusted their students to us, to ensure that all can live, learn and work in a safe and secure environment,” she added.
As it became clear that the public’s response was one of outrage, that tone changed. On Sunday, the university rather belatedly announced that they were putting the two police officers who used pepper spray on the protesters on administrative leave.
On Sunday, Chancellor Katehi issued another statement: “I have also heard from an overwhelming number of students, faculty, staff and alumni from around the country. I am deeply saddened that this happened on our campus, and as chancellor, I take full responsibility for the incident.”
She added, “I pledge to take the actions needed to ensure that this does not happen again. I feel very sorry for the harm our students were subjected to and I vow to work tirelessly to make the campus a more welcoming and safe place.”
Still later she added, “Friday was not a day that would make anyone on our campus proud.”
UC President Mark Yudof said he was “appalled” by what happened, both at UC Davis as well as UC Berkeley, where police were hitting demonstrators with batons.
“I am appalled by images of University of California students being doused with pepper spray and jabbed with police batons on our campuses,” he said in a statement. “I intend to do everything in my power as president of this university to protect the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in non-violent protest.”
While he vowed not to micromanage either the police or chancellors, however, he said, “”I intend to convene all 10 chancellors, either in person or by telephone, to engage in a full and unfettered discussion about how to ensure proportional law enforcement response to non-violent protest.”
“To that end, I will be asking the chancellors to forward to me at once all relevant protocols and policies already in place on their individual campuses, as well as those that apply to the engagement of non-campus police agencies through mutual aid agreements,” President Yudof announced. “Further, I already have taken steps to assemble experts and stakeholders to conduct a thorough, far-reaching and urgent assessment of campus police procedures involving use of force, including post-incident review processes.”
The Vanguard learned that Lt. John Pike, the officer seen pepper spraying the protesters, is actually the head of the UC Davis Professional and Standards Unit, meaning that it is his job to evaluate and review the conduct of other officers in the course of citizen and administrative complaints.
It also appears that the use of force violates the University of California’s university-wide Police Policies and Administrative Procedures, which state: “Chemical agents are weapons used to minimize the potential for injury to officers, offenders, or other persons. They should only be used in situations where such force reasonably appears justified and necessary.”
On Saturday, Chancellor Linda Katehi was videoed silently moving through a mass of students. Now she has accepted an invitation to take part in the rally set for midday on Monday.
“My hope is that I’m going to be engaged with students in a dialogue so that we remain safe and we remain calm, as a campus,” Chancellor Katehi said in an interview Sunday with student-run Aggie TV. “We cannot be a place of learning when there’s no safety for the community, when there’s no calm. I will appeal personally to the students for that.”
Despite the comments from Chancellor Katehi, it becomes clear that her initial response was actually to defend the actions of the police and the campus administration. It was only once it became clear that the public was decidedly and loudly appalled by the actions that she changed her tune.
One problem that the chancellor, as well as Chief Spicuzza, face is that these decisions do not appear to have happened on the ground.
Instead, you have a lieutenant, John Pike, carrying out the actions. A man with a very troubled history, from what we have learned, with numerous external and internal complaints against him. What makes this all the worse is that he is the police officer who is charged with reviewing the conduct of others.
As we now know from Reverend Stoneking’s letter, the police had already had a major miscommunication and foul up at Mrak Hall, as police officers had arrived in riot gear for a peaceful demonstration.
Assistant Vice Chancellor Griselda Castro gave the reverend a load of, at best, half-baked excuses.
She told the reverend, “The police were not supposed to be in riot gear and the administration was also not happy about their response,” but she also defended the administration, calling them “overworked” and saying that they were “doing the best they can.”
Perhaps worse yet, the reverend was also told, “The Chancellor is unavailable due to her triple-booked schedule to move forward her agenda of globalization and internationalization of the university.”
This is, in fact, the growing criticism of the chancellor, that she is rarely at the university and rarely available to act as the chief administrator. The word is that she is out on the road attempting to make a name for herself and set herself up as the successor to President Yudof when he retires down the road.
What this incident seems to suggest is that no one took control of the police, and without leadership, the police overreacted to a fundamentally non-threatening situation.
Many have called for the chancellor to resign over this. She has sidestepped that issue for now, but it is fairly clear that heads have to roll.
As most familiar with the situation on the ground at the university seem to acknowledge, the university, especially in times with huge fee hikes, is going to have protests. In the past, they have allowed the protesters to have their say, allowing them to camp out on the steps of Mrak Hall in the 1980s, for example.
And yet we have been covering events at UC Davis for almost five years now, and most of the time, they have fouled up these situations. But this is the worst. You have activists who are a threat to no one, you have flimsy excuses that are directly rebutted by the video, such as encirclement of the officers, while most people who watch the videos see that the officers moved through the crowd unencumbered.
Civil Rights Attorney Stewart Katz, who specializes in police misconduct and excessive force cases, called the actions simply “stupid, unnecessary, and mean-spirited.”
“There just wasn’t any need for them to do this,” he told the Vanguard on Saturday, “They are students anyway, they have finals coming up. How long are they really going to stay anyway?”
Yolo County ACLU Chair Natalie Wormeli said that the local chapter “is quite concerned by what appears to be excessive force used on the students who were exercising their First Amendment rights and were peaceably assembled.”
“As the footage shows, the campus police, dressed in their dramatic helmets, which are designed to protect them from their noxious chemicals and any other non-lethal weaponry they were prepared to use, set the stage for a nonpeaceful ending to a student protest,” she added.
Former Councilmember Lamar Heystek made it a point to question whether the City of Davis should even be involved in a support capacity. Other locales have refused mutual aid for, specifically, the Occupy movement.
“Despite this secondary role, our City peace officers were seen by millions around the world participating in the suppression of students who, while passively resisting, were actively engaged in exercising their constitutional freedoms to speak out,” Mr. Heystek wrote.
“Secondary or not, it is our obligation as a freedom-loving community to clearly and formally articulate our values so that there be no misunderstanding,” he said. “Our City’s law enforcement resources must not be deployed in cooperation – however ancillary – at the request of another agency that is engaging in morally questionable police tactics.”
He called on the City of Davis to “seriously reexamine” their role in mutual-aid agreements in such cases.
The Sacramento Bee joined the chorus, calling that “UC must make amends for use of excessive force,” and writing, “Courts have made clear that public authorities can limit the time and place of protests. The First Amendment is not a license to say or do anything at any time. Yet that doesn’t give authorities the latitude to use any type of method to enforce ‘time-and-place’ protest restrictions.”
They add, “Using pepper spray on young people who are using passive resistance is appalling, the term UC President Mark Yudof used Sunday in calling for a review of campus police actions. He should look hard at claims by UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza that officers had no choice but to use pepper spray to avoid being cut off ‘from their support.’ “
The problem, as we have noted, is that the protests would have died on their own had the police not intervened. Now they have made it worse. As the Bee notes, “It appeared the UC Davis protests were dying down before the police overreacted Friday, and it didn’t help that Chancellor Linda Katehi initially came to their [the officers’] defense. Now protesters are vowing to show up in even greater numbers today.”
Even a Davis Enterprise editorial called the pepper spraying an “overreaction.”
“We add our voice to the growing chorus of members of the Davis and UC Davis communities who are deeply concerned about the pepper-spraying of protesters Friday on the university quad,” they wrote Sunday morning.
Those who somehow still believe that the police acted appropriately need to look at the public reaction and understand that, while on Friday there might have been a hundred people on the Quad, on Monday there will be thousands and they will be angry.
Occupy Sacramento sent out a press release on Sunday night calling on a caravan of Occupiers to support “brutalized UC Davis students.”
“We feel it is a necessity to support and assist our friends at UC Davis in their time of need. This kind of brutality as seen by the citizen videos circulating the world needs to stop. When someone next asks ‘why’ is there an Occupy, we only need to point to this example of the 1 percent ordering their public servants to punish – without trial – peaceful, non-violent demonstrators.
“The Occupy movement will not stand for it,” said Cres Vellucci, an ACLU board member in Sacramento, and Legal Team coordinator for Occupy Sacramento.
An Occupy lawyer, meanwhile, called on Gov. Brown, AG Harris, federal and county law enforcement to arrest officers responsible for pepper spraying UC Davis students.
The officers involved in the pepper-spray attacks on UC Davis students Friday should be immediately arrested because they’ve violated federal and state laws, said one of the lawyers from Occupy Sacramento in a letter to Gov. Brown, Attorney General Kamala Harris and other law enforcement officials.
“Physical attacks on persons violate California Penal Code 242 (Battery) and such violence perpetrated by those in uniform is a criminal violation of Federal civil rights law 18 USC 242,” said Jeff Kravitz, a constitutional rights attorney.
Mr. Kravitz suggested the state, through AG Harris, as well as Yolo District Attorney Jeff Reisig and US Attorney Benjamin Wagner, should make the arrests of the UC Davis officers immediately.
“It is imperative that proper action be taken by County, State and Federal authorities… initiating criminal proceedings including the arrest of those who committed the acts of violence. or bringing the issues before a grand jury. Leaving he matter solely in the hands of the University is not a reasonable option,” said Mr. Kravitz.
He added that the University of California’s promised investigation is “clearly self-serving and bears resemblance to the investigation conducted by Penn State into the allegations of sex crimes by Jerry Sandusky…an investigation used to protect the university and not the victims.”
At the same time, organizers have called for calm.
An email from organizers of the Whole Earth Festival said, “The non-violent response to Friday’s ‘shame on you’ pepper-spraying and the chillingly-silent, non-violent Walk of Shame following students gathering around Katehi’s press-conference location are responses of which we can be proud.”
“Non-violence is powerful; non-violence is the power that will lead to change. Change in UCD administration; change in how police respond to peaceful acts of civil disobedience —- nationwide,” the message said.
In the end, everyone but a tiny minority realize how big an error this was. Now the task comes to hold those responsible accountable and that task will begin on Monday as demonstrators flock in support of the right to dissent, and Chancellor Katehi campaigns to keep her job.
—David M. Greenwald reporting