UC Davis Report Concludes: the Pepper-Spraying Never Should Have Happened

pepper-spray-suit-3By Michael Risher

Staff Attorney
ACLU of Northern California

The long-awaited report on the infamous incident of UC Davis police pepper-spraying non-violent, seated student protesters has been released. It concludes what we all know from watching the shocking videos: “The pepperspraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented.” That’s the opening to the report, which outlines the various ways that Chancellor Katehi, other Administration officials, and the UC Davis Police Department completely mismanaged the situation at every level.

The ACLU of Northern California notes the following significant findings in the report:

  • “The decision to use pepper spray was not supported by objective evidence and was not authorized by policy.”
  • The report makes clear that the Administration and campus police refused to recognize the protest as the non-violent, student-led demonstration that it was, instead assuming it was led by non-students, despite clear evidence from a high level administrator to the contrary, and that they made this incorrect assumption because the students were affiliated with the Occupy Movement
  • The UC Police Department had no clear legal basis for removing tents in the first place.
  • If Chancellor Katehi had a clear vision that police should not use force, she failed to clearly communicate that.
  • Chief Spicuzza exhibited a significant lack of leadership, failing to communicate her tactical concerns about Chancellor Katehi’s proposed response, and not controlling officers under her command.
  • “Lieutenant Pike’s use of force in pepper spraying seated protesters was objectively unreasonable.”
  • Kroll identified no “objective evidence of any attempt by a protester to use violence.”
  • The MK- 9 pepper spray used on the students was not even approved for use by the U.C. Police Department.
  • California laws that create a veil of secrecy over reports relating to police misconduct (the same laws that delayed the release of this report for a month) need to be changed to allow transparency and public oversight and to promote police accountability.

Taken as a whole, the report also makes clear that:

The University acted based on fear and assumptions about the Occupy movement, not on evidence or the law. The University’s response to the demonstration reflects a fundamental lack of respect for the right to protest.

While we are pleased with the light that the University has shed on this matter through this report, it left some key stones unturned (for example, the role of the UC Office of the President in protecting – or failing to protect — the rights of non-violent protesters).  The ACLU of Northern California is representing students and alumni in a lawsuit against UC Davis and individual police officers, over a series of constitutional violations against the demonstrators on November 18, and we hope to obtain more answers over the course of this litigation.

When the cost of speech is a shot of blinding, burning pepper spray in the face, speech is not free.

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