Pepper spray explanation doesn't wash with UC Davis students
UC Davis chancellor says she did not order campus police to use pepper spray. Chancellor Linda Katehi told 1,000 students that police were directed not to use force.
DAVIS, California — The chancellor of a US university who has faced widespread criticism following the pepper spraying of peaceful demonstrators has told an assembly of 1,000 students that she had instructed campus police not to use force in breaking up the protest.
Video footage of Lt. John Pike and another officer casually spraying an orange cloud at the protesters as they sat peacefully on the ground began circulating online Friday night. Students gathered on campus Tuesday for the second time in as many days to condemn the violence. They also urged university officials to require police to attend sensitivity training.
University of California, Davis chancellor Linda Katehi, who has faced criticism from students, faculty and staff in recent days, told some 1,000 students gathered in an auditorium that she asked police to remove tents from the university's quad but did not direct them to forcibly remove the demonstrators.
"I explicitly directed the chief of police that violence should be avoided at all costs," she said. "It was the absolute last thing I ever wanted to happen."
She stressed that students have a right to demonstrate peacefully.
"Because encampments have long been prohibited by UC policy, I directed police only to take down the tents," she said. "My instructions were for no arrests and no police force."
Yet not all students who attended the town hall in a performing arts complex were satisfied with the response from Katehi.
Puneet Kamal, 22, an environmental science and policy major, was among those lined up to ask questions Tuesday.
"She didn't say 'I'm sorry that I did this, or I'm sorry I made this call,'" Kamal said. "She said 'I'm sorry that this situation had to happen.' Where's the blame going to?"
Natalie Poulton, 20, a communications major, said Katehi has not fully explained what she knew in advance about the police plans for clearing out protesters.
"I want more answers," said Poulton. "She totally didn't explain if there was a miscommunication with the cops and what exactly happened in terms of the higher-ups."
Pike, another officer and the campus police chief have been placed on paid administrative leave in the wake of the incident at the 32,000-student campus that lies west of the state capital. The school is the third most populous in the UC system behind the campuses in Los Angeles and Berkeley.
Pike, 39, is a retired Marine sergeant who has been honored for his police work on campus but also figured in a discrimination lawsuit against the university.
He has twice been honored by the university for exceptional police work, including a 2006 incident in which he tackled a scissor-wielding hospital patient who was threatening fellow officers. Afterward, he said he decided against using pepper spray because it might harm his colleagues or other hospital patients.
But an alleged anti-gay slur by Pike also figured in a racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit a former police officer filed against the department, which ended in a $240,000 settlement in 2008. Officer Calvin Chang's 2003 discrimination complaint against the university's police chief and the UC Board of Regents alleged he was systematically marginalized as the result of anti-gay and racist attitudes on the force, and he specifically claimed Pike described him using a profane anti-gay epithet.
Dieter Dammeier, an Upland lawyer for the Federated University Police Officers Association, the union that represents UC Davis officers, said the operations plan issued by the department includes the use of pepper spray. Dammeier said he does not represent Pike because the lieutenant is in a management position in the department, while the union represents the rank-and-file.
"The officers were doing simply what they were instructed to do by upper management there," Dammeier said, referring to police, not university, management. "So the officers are getting beat up pretty good out there, but they were simply doing what they were instructed to do."
The administrator who oversees campus policing said the force has wide discretion in deciding how to respond to specific circumstances.
Tuesday, state lawmakers announced they would hold a hearing on the pepper-spraying incident. Assembly Speaker John Perez sent a letter to the University of California Board of Regents chairwoman Sherry Lansing and UC President Mark Yudof asking for a system-wide investigation.
"Students, parents and the public deserve to have answers to the myriad of troubling questions these incidents have raised," Perez said in a statement.
Yudof later announced he had appointed former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton to review the UC Davis incident and provide "an independent, unvarnished report about what happened."
He also appointed the university's general counsel and the UC Berkeley law school dean to examine police protocols and policies at all 10 UC campuses, including discussions with students, faculty and staff.
Katehi has already asked the Yolo County district attorney's office to investigate, and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven confirmed Tuesday that the department will look into the matter.
Attorney General Kamala Harris was deeply disturbed by the videos of the incident, spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill said Tuesday.
"She's confident they will conduct a quick and thorough investigation of the matter," Gledhill said.
On Tuesday, about 50 tents formed an encampment on the site where the pepper-spraying happened as students went about going to class. During her address during the evening town hall, Katehi said she sympathized with the feelings that are leading students to protest.
"I understand the frustration and anger students are feeling right now," she said. "Our economy is in poor shape, employment prospects are the worst in decades and tuition has been increased a number of times."
Burke reported from San Francisco.