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Officers probed in wake of campus pepper spraying

As students and faculty denounced the pepper-spraying of Occupy movement protesters, unrest at UC Davis spread to repeated fee hikes and the conduct of campus police.

On Monday, an estimated 5,000 people rallied at the UC Davis quad to protest the incident Friday of demonstrators who were seated on the ground when two police officers moved in and sprayed them from close range.

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi spoke briefly at the rally, before being swamped by reporters and rushed into an unmarked vehicle.

“I’m here to apologize. I really feel horrible for what happened on Friday,” Katehi said.

She made the appearance after the spraying sparked widespread anger on the campus.

“The police had no right to attack peaceful protestors,” one speaker told the crowd.

Student demonstrators who protested the police action also drew attention to tuition hikes.

The campus police department’s use of force by police is now being questioned, although it was defended by university and police officials at a Saturday press conference, the day following the spraying.

“We want to turn Davis into a democracy builder, not an oppression builder,” said Bill Camp, the executive secretary for the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

Katehi’s informal speech stood in contrast to the university’s press conference on Saturday that school officials hoped would defuse the aftermath of the spraying.

Instead, the media event ended abruptly after being disrupted by student protestors. Then, a crowd of over 300 students prevented the chancellor from leaving. Administration officials and protest leaders negotiated an end to the standoff, and Katehi left peacefully two hours later.

Following an uproar over Friday’s pepper-spraying incident and the event on Saturday, Katehi placed the two police officers who pepper-sprayed students and the campus police Chief Annette Spicuzza on administrative leave, pending an investigation. Katehi called the move “a necessary step toward restoring trust.”

The chancellor has also announced the formation of a special task force to investigate the incident and deliver a report in 30 days.

Video of the confrontation went viral over the Internet, igniting a national debate over the use of police force. By Monday evening, YouTube alone reported more than 700,000 views.
The Occupy UC Davis movement gained steam last week, following a rally on Nov. 15 that ended with the occupation of the school administration building. Friday’s confrontation was sparked by demonstrators’ refusal to remove tents from the UC Davis Quad.

Early Friday, university and police officials told Occupy protestors that it was against school policy to set up tents and camp overnight. The chancellor cited concerns over the wellbeing and safety of students. Protestors were given until 3:00 p.m. to dismantle the encampment.

At 3:30 p.m., the police in riot gear moved in to dismantle the remaining tents on the Quad. Protestors linked arms to prevent the police from reaching the tents, and they subsequently surrounded the group of 35 officers.

Two officers pepper-sprayed a row of students sitting down on the ground with arms linked, in order to create a path for the police to leave. According to Spicuzza, the officers on the scene — feeling threatened — made the decision to employ pepper-spray against the students.

In the wake of Friday’s confrontation, the university has promised to review its policies pertaining to overnight camping.

Some, however, are now calling for the chancellor’s resignation — demanding that she be held responsible for the incident. Katehi has so far resisted efforts to oust her from office, saying she is “committed to staying” at UC Davis.

The incident has drawn the ire and condemnation of leaders statewide.

University of California President Mark G. Yudof released a statement Sunday, saying he was “appalled” by the incident. In a telephone conference convened with the 10 chancellors of the UC system on Monday, Yudof announced that he would “organize a thorough examination of police procedures, protocols and training.”

State Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in a statement Monday, “On its face, this is an outrageous action for police to methodically pepper spray passive demonstrators who were exercising their right to peacefully protest.”

However, Gov. Jerry Brown — notably absent from the discussion — has yet to issue any statement or comment regarding the incident. He currently is outside the state.

Protestors say that Friday’s incident has galvanized the Occupy movement and that more people are showing interest in participating.

“The people in Australia are watching,” Camp said.

The chancellor is expected to hold a series of forums and dialogues with students in the coming weeks. But for now, students have set up camp again on the Quad.

State Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, was spotted talking to students on the Quad Monday night.

“All Americans deserve the right to peacefully express their opinions,” he said in a statement.

Although the university has remained tight-lipped about how it will respond to the new Occupy encampment, it has promised to deal with the situation on a “day-to-day” basis.  
At the assembly meeting held after the rally, students voted to hold a general strike on Nov. 28, coinciding with a meeting of the UC regents. In addition, student protestors vowed to remain on the Quad indefinitely.

“I wanted to know what Chancellor Katehi had to say. I wanted to have a discussion,” said Ana Quiroz, a senior international relations major, when asked why she came out to the events.

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