A California university placed two of its police officers on administrative leave Sunday because of their involvement in the pepper spraying of passively sitting protesters, while the school's chancellor accelerated a task force's investigation into the incident amid calls for her resignation.
The president of the 10-campus University of California system also weighed in on the growing fallout from Friday's incident at UC Davis, saying that he is “appalled” at images of students being doused with pepper spray and plans a far-reaching, urgent assessment of law enforcement procedures on all campuses.
“I implore students who wish to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful and lawful fashion. I expect campus authorities to honor that right,” UC President Mark G. Yudof said. All 10 chancellors would convene soon for a discussion “about how to ensure proportional law enforcement response to non-violent protest,” he said.
Officials at UC Davis refused to identify the two officers who were place on administrative leave but one was a veteran of many years on the force and other “fairly new” to the department, the school's Police Chief Annette Spicuzza told The Associated Press. She would not elaborate further because of the pending probe.
Videos posted online of the incident clearly show one riot-gear clad officer dousing the line of protesters with spray as they sit in a line with their arms intertwined. Spicuzza told the AP that the second officer was identified during an intense review of several videos.
“We really wanted to be diligent in our research, and during our viewing of multiple videos we discovered the second officer,” Spicuzza said. “This is the right thing to do.”
Both officers were trained in the use of pepper spray as department policy dictates, and both had been sprayed with it themselves during training, the chief noted.
Meanwhile, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said she has been inundated with reaction from alumni, students and faculty.
“I spoke with students this weekend and I feel their outrage,” Katehi said in a statement Sunday.
Katehi also set a 30-day deadline for her school's task force investigating the incident to issue its report. The task force, comprised of students, staff and faculty, will be chosen this week. She earlier had set a 90-day timetable.
She also plans to meet with demonstrators Monday at their general assembly, said her spokeswoman, Claudia Morain.
On Saturday, the UC Davis faculty association called for Katehi's resignation, saying in a letter there had been a “gross failure of leadership.” Katehi has resisted calls for her to quit.
“I am deeply saddened that this happened on our campus, and as chancellor, I take full responsibility for the incident,” Katehi said 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.”
The incident reverberated well beyond the university, with condemnations and defenses of police from elected officials and from the wider public on Facebook and Twitter.
“On its face, this is an outrageous action for police to methodically pepper spray passive demonstrators who were exercising their right to peacefully protest at UC Davis,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said in a statement Sunday. “Chancellor Katehi needs to immediately investigate, publically explain how this could happen and ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”
The protest Friday was held in support of the overall Occupy Wall Street movement and in solidarity with protesters at the University of California, Berkeley who were jabbed by police with batons on Nov. 9.
Nine students hit by pepper spray were treated at the scene, two were taken to hospitals and later released, university officials said. Ten people were arrested.
Some defended the officers' tactics. 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.
Meanwhile Sunday, police in San Francisco, about 80 miles south of Davis, arrested six anti-Wall Street protesters and cleared about 12 tents erected in front of the Federal Reserve Bank.
Across the bay in Oakland, police made no arrests after protesters peacefully left a new encampment set up in defiance of city orders.
Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said about 20 tents were erected late Saturday after several hundred protesters tore down a chain-link fence surrounding a city-owned vacant lot and set up a new encampment on Telegraph Avenue.