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UCD police chief placed on administrative leave

UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters who were blocking officers' attempts to remove arrested protesters from the Quad on Friday afternoon. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses a can of pepper spray to move protesters who were blocking officers attempts to remove arrested protestors from the Quad on Friday afternoon. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | November 20, 2011 |

Updated Monday, Nov. 21, at 7:45 a.m.

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza has been placed on administrative leave pending a review of her officers’ use of pepper spray on unarmed protesters Friday. Two of the involved officers also remain on leave.

“As I have gathered more information about the events that took place on our Quad on Friday, it has become clear to me that this is a necessary step toward restoring trust on our campus,” Chancellor Linda Katehi said in a news release issued early this morning.

“I take full responsibility for the events on Friday and am extremely saddened by what occurred,” Katehi added. “I eagerly await the results of the review, and intend to act quickly to implement reforms that will safeguard the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in nonviolent protest.”

On Sunday, Katehi also called on the Yolo County District Attorney’s office to investigate the campus police department’s use of force. The district attorney agreed to conduct a review in collaboration with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department.

In a letter to UCD Police Department staff, Vice Chancellor John Meyer said that the decision to place Spicuzza on administrative leave was necessary to allow “a fact-based review of events, assist in calming the community environment, and allow the department to focus on its current and substantial demands.”

UCD police Lt. Matthew Carmichael will serve as the department’s interim chief.

Katehi said Sunday that, beginning by meeting with protesters on the Quad, she hopes to work with students to avoid a repeat of Friday’s confrontation.

Facing a firestorm of criticism, Katehi has accepted an invitation to take part in Occupy UC Davis’s planned general assembly at noon. She is set to meet with faculty on Monday afternoon and intends to hold a student forum Tuesday.

More discussions will be held after the Thanksgiving holiday, she said.

“My hope is that I’m going to be engaged with students in a dialogue so that we remain safe and we remain calm, as a campus,” Katehi said in an interview Sunday with student-run Aggie TV. “We cannot be a place of learning when there’s no safety for the community, when there’s no calm. I will appeal personally to the students for that.”

Ten students were arrested on misdemeanor charges when police cleared the day-old Occupy UC Davis encampment on Friday.

In a moment viewed more than one million times on Youtube that has now made news worldwide, Lt. John Pike sprayed from close range about a dozen seated protesters with pepper spray. Afterward, 11 were treated by paramedics, while two were treated then released from Sutter Davis Hospital.

Pike and another officer, whom UCD has declined to identify, have been placed on administrative leave while a planned task force of students, faculty and staff completes a 30-day investigation of what happened.

Katehi said that she was “horrified” by videos of what happened. Her goal, she said, was only to have camping equipment removed. She repeated her health and safety concerns about protesters staying on campus overnight.

“The intent was not to remove the people or disperse the crowd, only move the equipment, and that’s where I believe it went wrong at some point,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what happened to go wrong, this way, because of course what you have seen and I have seen on video — it’s horrible. It shows a treatment for the students that we had never wished and I had personally never imagined that it would happen on our campus.

“I will really do everything I can to correct these problems and make sure that in the future we never have a similar event.”

Katehi said that she hoped to work with students in a way that that allows them to express themselves and doesn’t “see students and the police brought into a similar circumstance.”

“We need to spend one year, if not longer, as a campus, to really to ask the very important questions of what happened and how are we going to move forward,” she said. “How are we going to create a university that allows our students to express concern, to express anger, to express frustration, to even, at times, participate in civil disobedience as long as that, for them, is a way to express their frustrations, their fears, their thoughts and their ideas.

“The question that I have, and that all should have, is how can we manage this while at the same time that we, as a community of 60,000 people, remain safe and the students, those who participate in those events, remain safe, as well.”

Asked if she believed police behaved properly, she said, “Technically speaking, the police followed protocol, but … protocol is not appropriate all the time … when you have a gathering of peaceful students.

“As we go forward, we’ll be asking some serious questions about what happened. We also have to ask very serious questions about how to deal with situations like that in the future. Are there changes that needed to be considered on these protocols?”

The board of the Davis Faculty Association has called for the third-year chancellor’s  resignation. As of Sunday night, more than 43,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the same.

A video of Katehi’s walk to her car with protesters looking on silence has also gone viral, attracting more than 350,000 hits on Youtube.

“I have thought very carefully about all the messages that came to me,” Katehi said. “I have to say, I am committed to staying at this university. I have made the commitment to really make this university a better place from what it is right now, a great place, as a matter of fact, in terms of providing a learning environment for our students.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done and I have made the commitment to work very hard to … really make our campus the place we want it to be.”

Updated Sunday, Nov. 20, 4:01 p.m.:

Saying he was “appalled” by video of a UC Davis police officer pepper-spraying seated, unarmed protesters, UC President Mark Yudof announced Sunday he would convene a meeting of chancellors to discuss how police handle nonviolent protests.

Yudof has asked for each of the 10 campuses to forward to him policies related to protests, including mutual-aid agreements with outside agencies.

A panel of experts and stakeholders will also “conduct a thorough, far-reaching and urgent assessment of campus police procedures involving use of force, including post-incident review processes,” he said.

Ten protesters were arrested as police cleared the Occupy UC Davis camp from the Quad on Friday. Eleven people were treated after being hit with pepper spray. Two were taken to the hospital, where they were treated and released.

Yudof said he did not wish to “micromanage” chancellors — “They are the leaders of our campuses and they have my full trust and confidence,” he said — or campus police.

“Nonetheless, the recent incidents make clear the time has come to take strong action to recommit to the ideal of peaceful protest,” he said. “As I have said before, free speech is part of the DNA of this university, and nonviolent protest has long been central to our history. It is a value we must protect with vigilance.

“I implore students who wish to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful and lawful fashion. I expect campus authorities to honor that right.”

Yudof’s statement also referenced footage of UC Berkeley police striking protesters with batons more than a week ago. In a New York times opinion piece published Sunday, former U.S. poet Robert Hass, a faculty member there who was protesting alongside students, described being hit in the ribs.

Both the Berkeley and Davis campuses plan reviews of police actions.

Updated Sunday, Nov. 20, 11:16 a.m.:

UC Davis on Sunday placed two police officers on administrative leave for their use of pepper spray in a Friday confrontation with Occupy UC Davis protesters.

Chancellor Linda Katehi said that she also would speed up the timetable for a faculty, student and staff task force to complete an investigation of the incident.

“I spoke with students this weekend, and I feel their outrage,” Katehi said in a statement. “I have also heard from an overwhelming number of students, faculty, staff and alumni from around the country. I am deeply saddened that this happened on our campus, and as chancellor, I take full responsibility for the incident.

“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.”

UCD has declined to name the officers, but Lt. John Pike, who led the officers during the confrontation, sprayed a group of about a dozen seated, unarmed protesters.

One Youtube video of Pike’s actions, watched more than 340,000 times as of Sunday morning, has drawn international attention. A search for UC Davis at Google News turned up more than 1,200 hits, and an online petition calling for the chancellor’s resignation had reached 25,000 signatures.

UCD paramedics treated 11 protesters who were sprayed. Two were taken to Sutter Davis Hospital, where they were treated and released.

Ten protesters were arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor violations.

UCD is also planning forums with students, faculty and staff. Times and locations have not been announced.

In a video of Katehi leaving a press conference Saturday, with protesters watching her in silence, Katehi said she would meet with students Monday. A UCD spokesperson confirmed Sunday that those are Katehi’s plans.

Protesters are planning a general assembly on the Quad on Monday at noon.

“These past few days our campus has been confronted with serious questions which will challenge us for many months and years to come,” Katehi also said in her statement. “We have created great universities which are challenged in their capacity to accommodate our human needs of expression, anger, frustration and even civil disobedience together with the need to feel safe.

“We need to find a way to change that while at the same time remaining true to our mission of teaching, research and service. We need to think hard and together on how to accomplish this.”

Published Sunday, Nov. 20:

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi has ordered the creation of a task force to review how police on Friday cleared the Occupy UC Davis encampment, resulting in 10 arrests and the pepper-spraying of about a dozen protesters.

In a letter to the campus, Katehi called videos of Lt. John Pike sweeping a canister of orange pepper spray over seated, unarmed protesters from two or three feet away “chilling.”

Police arrested eight men and two women, on suspicion of disorderly conduct, for lodging without permission, and failure to disperse. They were cited for the misdemeanors and released.

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The chancellor then scheduled a press conference at the Surge II building on campus for 4 p.m. Saturday to address the incident, but the conference was cut short when several hundred protesters surrounded the building demanding her resignation.

Katehi did not leave the building for three hours because, according to Mitchel Benson, associate vice chancellor for university communications, the crowd outside was perceived to be hostile.

Inside, the chancellor addressed the calls for her resignation.

“I don’t believe it would be appropriate for me to resign at this point,” Katehi said. “I don’t think I have violated the process of this institution. As a matter of fact I believe I have worked very had to make this campus a safe campus for all.”

The chancellor also expressed her sadness for the events at the press conference.

“The events of yesterday have been very hard for me personally and for the whole campus,” Katehi said.

Videos went viral

Photos and videos of the pepper-spraying went viral, passed on through social media and posted on left-leaning websites like the Huffington Post, Daily Kos and The Nation, then on news sites like that of Time magazine.

On his website, filmmaker Michael Moore echoed a call by Nathan Brown, an assistant professor of English at UCD, who called for Katehi’s resignation.

“You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis,” Brown wrote in a blog post. “In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis.”

Later, the The UC Davis Faculty Association Board posted a letter on its blog calling for the chancellor to step down.

The letter cites that “The Chancellor’s authorization of the use of police force to suppress the protests by students and community members speaking out on behalf of our university and public higher education generally represents a gross failure of leadership.”

In addition to the faculty board, Attorney Natalie Wormeli said Saturday that the Yolo County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union “is quite concerned by what appears to be excessive force used on the students who were exercising their First Amendment rights and were peaceably assembled.”

“As the footage shows, the campus police, dressed in their dramatic helmets, which are designed to protect them from their noxious chemicals and any other non-lethal weaponry they were prepared to use, set the stage for a nonpeaceful ending to a student protest,” Wormeli said.

Police called in

The confrontation took place after UCD held off on enforcing a camping ban overnight Thursday. On Friday morning, a Student Affairs representative delivered a letter from Katehi asking the protesters to take down their tents by 3 p.m.

The bulk of the protesters chose not to budge.

Ugliness followed.

Protesters “(offered) us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal,” Katehi wrote in a letter Friday night.

“We deeply regret that many of the protesters today chose not to work with our campus staff and police to remove the encampment as requested. We are even more saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal,” she added.

As the Quad emptied in a light rain afterward, protester Eric Lee said that the administration and police were “shooting themselves in the foot.”

“What they’re doing is taking off their masks. They’re making it blatant that social equality is not something that they want,” said Lee, who graduated from UCD in June with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“It also shows that the First Amendment is worthless. Here we are addressing government grievances — tuition has gone up 300 percent in the last decade — and this is how we get treated when we sit down and peacefully protest.”

At 3:30 p.m., about 35 officers wearing helmets and carrying batons on their hips, some with guns filled with pepper balls, crossed the Quad as about 60 protesters chanted “Shame on you!”

“We’re fighting for your children’s education!” yelled one.

Shouting into the crowd noise, Pike three times ordered them to clear out under section 409 of the California penal code. The law requires that those taking part in an unlawful assembly disperse.

By the time Pike ordered the police skirmish line forward, the crowd of onlookers had swelled to perhaps 150, many recording the slow-motion confrontation on cell phones.

Officers almost immediately dragged three protesters to the ground and pinned them. Many in the ring sat down, arms locked, chanting, while supporters pulled away the tents.

Police took down more protesters, tightening plastic restraints around their wrists.

Some onlookers joined the protesters, chanting “Set them free!” They rose as a group, then, slowly moved to surround the officers, who drew their batons.

Having at least once ordered the sidewalk cleared, so that those arrested could be taken away, Pike then pepper-sprayed seated protesters blocking the officer’s path.

Officer must file report for review

At the news conference Saturday, Police Chief Annette Spicuzza explained the process of review that Pike will go through for taking the action that he did.

“The officer who made that decision, we need to know why he made it,” Spicuzza said. “He’s going to be required to make a report and then it will be reviewed and it will be looked at through this task force.”

Pike has served the UCD Police Department for 10 years and according to Spicuzza, is a “very good officer.”

The incident “raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this,” Katehi wrote Saturday.

She called for a task force made up of faculty, students and staff to review the incident within 90 days to “ensure our strategies to gain compliance are fair and reasonable and do not lead to mistreatment.”

She also ordered a review of policies banning encampments: “If our policies do not allow our students enough flexibility to express themselves, then we need to find a way to improve these policies and make them more effective and appropriate.”

Administrators and police are unlikely to have 90 days to make their decisions, as protesters have vowed to return to the Quad on Monday at noon.

On Friday, protesters were taken to Sutter Davis Hospital, where they were later treated and released.

UCD paramedics treated with saline the eyes of 11 protesters. One young woman sat on her knees, crying with her eyes shut and pink streaks of Pepto-Bismol and water running down her cheeks.

‘Horrified’

Kristin Koster, a post-doctoral lecturer, used a scarf dipped in another home remedy, Maalox and water, to help Dominic Gutierrez, who was barely able to open his eyes.

He was sprayed, he said, when he tried to shield others with his jacket.

Koster said that she was “horrified” by both the actions of police and the inaction of staff and administrators standing nearby who did not seek medical assistance for those hurt until asked.

“In a way it’s very abstract to be protesting about money or debt,” Koster said. “There’s really nothing like the moment when they find out that the university — and all these smiling ladies, who are supposed to be there to protect you — will protect the university from you, with pepper spray and guns. They will injure you and injure your friends.

“When you protect the things you believe in with your body, it changes you for good. It radicalizes you for good.”

Tuition hikes are one protest issue

Gutierrez, a junior mechanical engineering major from Sacramento, had never been much of a protester until he saw the video of Berkeley police striking students and professors.

That and a UC proposal to increase tuition by another 8 to 16 percent each year from 2012 to 2016 pushed him to take action.

During a rally, an overnight occupation of the campus administration building and marches through campus this week, other UCD protesters echoed the Occupy Wall Street movement, railing against the financial and political power wielded by corporations and the rich.

“When they see us on the quad, a student might think that maybe there are weird people camping on the Quad,” Gutierrez said. “Once they see this, all they see is cops hitting students. They might have thought, ‘Those are people different than me, I would never (protest).’

“Now they see this is awful, and they’ll come out for the same reason I came out.”

In her letter to protesters Friday morning, Katehi wrote that she sympathized “with the profound frustration” expressed by protesters in trying difficult economic times.

However, she continued, the administration is responsible for ensuring all “can live, learn and work in a safe, secure environment without disruption.”

“We take this responsibility seriously,” Katehi wrote. “We are accountable for what occurs on our campus. Campus policies generously support free speech, but do included limited time, place and manner regulations to protect health, safety and the ability of students, staff and faculty to accomplish the university mission.”

Liability concerns

The chancellor wrote that while she appreciated the peaceful nature of recent protests, liability concerns and limited staffing to supervise protesters meant the encampment must come down.

“Our resources must support our core mission to educate all students,” she added.

At about 2:30 p.m., Spicuzza delivered to about 60 to 70 protesters an order to take down the remaining 29 tents. Those who did not would risk losing their possessions and arrest.

In the final minutes before the deadline, a few among protesters assured the group that those arrested would have legal backing and would not lose their financial aid.

Some tents were packed up. About a dozen were pushed into a tight circle ringed by the protesters, who locked arms before police moved in.

“The camping was really a priority for us,” Spicuzza said later. “I appreciate that the tents are gone, and now we (the police) are gone.”

Spicuzza, who observed the chaotic events on the Quad, said immediately afterward that she was “very proud” of her officers.

“This was a tough scene to walk into,” she said. “This was 50 people and before you knew it, it probably grew close to 200. When you encircle a group of officers that are just trying to do their jobs, it’s kinda scary, but they did a great job.”

In contrast to other campuses, protests at UCD sometimes have been disruptive, but largely peaceful affairs since the UC Board of Regents began approving of series of tuition hikes aimed at backfilling slashed state funding.

Friday’s confrontation led to the largest number of arrests since 53 tuition-hike protesters were arrested at a Mrak Hall sit-in, in November 2009.

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8046. Track him at http://twitter.com/cory_golden. Enterprise staff writer Tom Sakash contributed to this article.

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Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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