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Cops & Courts
UC Davis pepper spray report reveals administration and police malfunction
UC Davis police officers dousing a line of seated Occupy protesters with pepper spray should and could have been prevented, according to a scathing 190-page report released Wednesday by a campus task force created to investigate the incident.
“Even a cursory reading of the report confirms what we have known from the start: Friday, Nov. 18 was a bad day for the UC Davis community and for the entire UC system,” UC President Mark Yudof said in a statement on the release of UC Davis pepper-spray report.
Cruz Reynoso, a retired California Supreme Court justice and a professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Law, chaired the 12 committee member task force which included students, professors, campus administrators, a legal mediator, and a Yolo County administrator.
Kroll, a risk management firm hired by UC Davis to assist the task force with the fact finding process, found that the highly potent pepper spray MK-9 used on November 18 was not an authorized weapon under UC Davis Police Department guidelines and that officers were not trained in its use.
“There was really no reason, we conclude, to have used the pepper spray,” Reynoso said Wednesday at a public meeting on campus.
At Wednesday’s public meeting, Robert Ostertag, a UC Davis professor of Technocultural Studies questioned how an unauthorized weapon ended up in the hands of UCDPD. “If safety of students is the primary concern and this according to the university administration was the whole reason they went and took down the tents is concern for safety,” he said, “the idea that an unapproved weapon in which people have no training are being used is a very, very serious matter.”
Reynoso responded and said that the task force did not have the power to subpoena and find out why the UCDPD had this type of pepper spray in the first place.
The report also criticized the UCDPD for not following national or state-mandated rules during a large event such as this. There are specific law enforcement rules and regulations about joint response to emergencies, which the report said was not followed by the UCDPD.
The report also points out several failures of the administration to research, assess and clearly communicate the Occupy scene on campus before deploying the campus police department to take action.
“Many of the folk who are involved in this situation from the chancellor to others I think proceeded in good faith,” Reynoso said, “though they, from our point of view, made serious mistakes.”
UC Davis campus administrators identified the security risks created by non-affiliates participating in the Occupy encampment as the main reason behind their decision to remove the tents at UC Davis. Campus administrators based their concerns on what they had seen on the news about other Occupy encampments in Oakland and at UC Berkeley. Kroll found that these concerns were not supported by any evidence and that in fact, the majority of the protestors arrested in November were students and alumni.
“The University acted based on fear and assumptions about the Occupy movement, not on evidence or the law,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said in a statement on their website Wednesday. “The University’s response to the demonstration reflects a fundamental lack of respect for the right to protest.”
A need for public oversight on reports relating to police misconduct was another theme of the report, which was a month overdue. Reynoso said this was caused by a lawsuit filed by attorneys for the campus police union to block the distribution of the report, citing laws that protect the confidentiality of police officers’ personnel records. It resulted in the court issuing a temporary restraining order and delaying the release of the report until April.
“I think that that’s a great disservice to the communities that deal with the police officers who after all are public servants,” Reynoso said, “and I personally feel that it’s a disservice to the police. The police can only do their job if they have the confidence of people who live in the community.”
An Internal Affairs investigation is running concurrent with the work of the task force which would address disciplinary action for police officers. However, officers involved in the November 18 incident declined to be interviewed by Kroll.
In a statement Wednesday, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said school administrators would study the report's recommendations and develop a detailed response and action plan "that will ensure that students' safety and free speech rights are paramount."
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.
“When the cost of speech is a shot of blinding, burning pepper spray in the face,” Michael Risher, a staff attorney at ACLU-NC said, “speech is not free.”
As of now, the Yolo County District Attorney has declined to charge arrestees who were cited for unlawful assembly, failure to disperse, or illegal camping.
Read the whole Reynoso Task Force Report here.