UC-Davis Chancellor insists she ordered not to use force on peaceful protesters (with video)

Here and Now

Lt. John Pike pepper sprays a line of protesters at UC-Davis on Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. The pepper spray incident has provoked an outpouring of rage. (Photo from YouTube video by Terry Datiger.)

The campus of the University of California-Davis is boiling after last week's incident where a campus police officer pepper sprayed a line of students peacefully demonstrating on campus.

An internal investigation is underway and its being led by well-respected former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton. Bratton is credited with restoring trust in the LAPD as well as in cutting crime in New York, where he was the police commissioner.

Meanwhile, the student government on campus endorsed a resolution calling for the ouster of Chancellor Linda Katehi unless specific reforms are quickly implemented. For her part, Katehi insists the pepper spraying was directly in defiance of an order she gave to the campus police: remove the protesters from campus, but don't use force.

Sam Stanton, a reporter with the Sacramento Bee, said Katehi's story is that she was adamant that should the students resist orders to remove them, police were to pull back. 

"The police chief told us on Friday, after the pepper spray incident, that her officers had been cut off from each other by the students and the pepper spray was necessary," Stanton said.

Clearly, the video doesn't show that, Stanton said, and the chief and the two officers who deployed the pepper spray have been placed on administrative leave. The chief hasn't given her version of what the UC-Davis chancellor told her.

Now comes talk of lawsuits against the officers and the police department. In California, there'a federal appelate court decision that affirms the right of peaceful protesters who have been pepper sprayed to file civil suits against the police officers who used the pepper spray.

"There's a very prominent attorney in Sacramento who plans to represent the students," Stanton said.

According to Stanton, the campus police policy allows for the use of force — pepper spray, batons, etc., if the officer is in danger. Katehi said, according to Stanton, that she didn't even realize police were deploying in riot gear.

"She said she was horrified even by that and wouldn't have approved of that situation," she said.

But ever since the incident, rather than peacefully ending the protest — Katehi's stated goal — the protest has just gotten larger.

Last Friday, when police moved in there were 25 tents on the quad. In the intervening days that number has grown to 75.

"There's no way she can send the police in to remove them now," Stanton said.

Stanton's looked at the policies in place at other police agencies in northern California and none of them would seem to have allowed the use of pepper spray as was done at UC-Davis. But part of the problem, Stanton said, is these campus police forces are operating under policies that are 40 years old and date back to the Vietnam Era riots that gripped college campuses across the country.

"Police training was all geared to old protests, before social media, before everyone had a video camera on their telephone and before students could organize effectively as they can now," Stanton said.

They're seeking to meet with students and discuss what new policies could be implemented to end the protests peacefully.