Officers in pepper spray incident placed on leave

By Jason Dearen

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 20 2011 12:20 p.m. MST

In this image made from video, a police officer uses pepper spray as he walks down a line of Occupy demonstrators sitting on the ground at the University of California, Davis on Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. The video - posted on YouTube - was shot Friday as police moved in on more than a dozen tents erected on campus and arrested 10 people, nine of them students.

Thomas K. Fowler, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SAN FRANCISCO — Two University of California, Davis police officers involved in the pepper spraying of seated protesters were placed on administrative leave Sunday, as the school's chancellor said she was accelerating an investigation of the incident.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said she has been inundated with reaction from alumni, staff, students and faculty over the incident Friday in which a riot gear-clad officer fired pepper spray on a line of sitting demonstrators. The protesters flinch and cover their faces but remain passive with their arms interlocked as onlookers shriek and scream out for the officer to stop.

The officers who were placed on leave have not been identified. In a news release, the university said, "Videos taken during Friday's arrests showed that the two officers used pepper spray on peacefully seated students."

The faculty association on Saturday called for Katehi's resignation after video of the incident was circulated widely on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on Saturday, saying in a letter there had been a "gross failure of leadership."

Katehi has resisted calls for her to quit, vowing instead to rigorously investigate the incident during which 10 protesters were arrested.

"I am deeply saddened that this happened on our campus, and as chancellor, I take full responsibility for the incident," Katehi said in a statement Sunday. "However, I pledge to take the actions needed to ensure that this does not happen again. I feel very sorry for the harm our students were subjected to and I vow to work tirelessly to make the campus a more welcoming and safe place."

Katehi also set a 30-day deadline for a task force investigating the incident to issue its report. The task force will be comprised of students, staff and faculty, Katehi said, and will be chosen this week.

As the video spread of the officer in riot gear blasting pepper spray into the faces of the seated protesters at the northern California university, outrage came quickly — followed almost as quickly by defense from police.

However, a law enforcement official who watched the clip called the use of force "fairly standard police procedure."

The protest was held in support of the overall Occupy Wall Street movement targeting economic inequality and corporate greed and in solidarity with protesters at the University of California, Berkeley who were jabbed by police with batons on Nov. 9.

Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department's use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a "compliance tool" that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters.

"When you start picking up human bodies, you risk hurting them," Kelly said. "Bodies don't have handles on them."

After reviewing the video, Kelly said he observed at least two cases of "active resistance" from protesters. In one instance, a woman pulls her arm back from an officer. In the second instance, a protester curls into a ball. Each of those actions could have warranted more force, including baton strikes and pressure-point techniques.

"What I'm looking at is fairly standard police procedure," Kelly said.

Images of police actions have served to galvanize support during the Occupy Wall Street movement, from the clash between protesters and police in Oakland last month that left an Iraq War veteran with serious injuries to more recent skirmishes in New York City, San Diego, Denver and Portland, Oregon.

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