Last November's pepper-spray attack on nonviolent University of California Davis (UCD) students resulted from poor leadership and lack of communication among campus police authorities and university leaders, according to a University of California task force report released on April 11. The report condemned the actions of the campus police officers and their use of excessive force against student demonstrators.
According to an April 11 KTVU article, Lt. John Pike and other campus police authorities who doused a line of seated student protesters with pepper spray used canisters larger than campus police officers were authorized and trained to utilize. The incident drew widespread public condemnation, and many called for UCD Chancellor Linda Katehi's resignation. The report provided findings about the incident along with a set of recommendations to prevent future clashes.
"Our overriding conclusion can be stated briefly and explicitly," wrote former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso and the report's co-authors, according to an April 11 Chicago Tribune article. "The pepper-spraying incident that took place on Nov. 18, 2011, should and could have been prevented."
Headed by Reynoso, the task force panel faulted Katehi and other administrators for their lack of leadership and Katehi's vague instructions to UCD Police Chief Annette Spicuzza on the day of the confrontation. The report concluded that the decision-making exhibited during the incident by the police authorities was too loose and informal, resulting in unnecessary violence against student demonstrators.
The report found the pepper-spraying "objectively unreasonable," according to KTVU.
The report was originally set for release on March 6, but the campus police officers' union sued to keep the document from being released. Attorneys claimed the report contained confidential personnel records that were protected from public release under the state's law, according to an April 11 Washington Post article.
"The documents reveal high-ranking administrators, and staff members, and leaders of the campus police department formed a network called the 'Activism Response Team' to keep close tabs on student activists, including monitoring student Facebook activity, infiltrating protests and attempting to obtain information about 'anticipated student actions,' and individuals involved in the protests," the The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) revealed in a statement, according to an April 14 TruthOut article.
"When the cost of speech is a shot of blinding, burning pepper spray in the face, speech is not free." - American Civil Liberties Union
UCD Campus Police Officers Union attorney John Bakhit noted that the task force was wrong to conclude that the pepper-spraying was unreasonable.
"I believe all the officers exercised quite a bit of restraint under the circumstances where you're surrounded by a crowd chanting vulgarities and told, 'We're not going to let you go unless you let go of the prisoners,'" Bakhit told KTVU.
The report recommended that the university reconsider its policies governing officers' rules and restrictions and improve training. The panel called on UCD leaders to develop appropriate school policies regarding civil disobedience and future demonstrations, according to KTVU.
Kroll, an investigative and risk-management company based in San Diego and hired by the university, also suggested major changes regarding UC campus police responses to student protests. Kroll provided a 150-page report of its own on April 11 concluding that the police's claims and actions were unfounded.
"The MK-9 is a higher pressure type of pepper spray than what officers normally carry on their utility belts (MK-4)," the Kroll report said, according to an April 11 MSNBC article.
University of California President Mark Yudof responded to the report's release and assured that he plans to meet with Katehi to discuss the implementation of the task force's recommendations.
Katehi and other UC Davis leaders responded to the report and assured that they will "study and assess" it, according to an April 11 San Jose Mercury News article.
"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, according to the Washington Post. "I implore students who wish to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful fashion, and I expect campus authorities to honor that right."
The American Civil Liberties Union noted in a statement that the task force's report failed to examine Yudof's role in preventing future free speech infringements in the UC system, according to an April 11 Chicago Tribune article.
"When the cost of speech is a shot of blinding, burning pepper spray in the face, speech is not free," said ACLU attorney Michael Risher for the Tribune.
Diana Petrova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.