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Report: UC Davis Police should not have pepper-sprayed protesters

Video of UC Davis campus police firing an orange stream of pepper spray at apparently peaceful protesters during an Occupy rally sparked nationwide outrage.

A UC Davis task force report released Wednesday strongly condemned a campus officer’s use of pepper spray during an Occupy protest at the university in November, saying that it “should and could have been prevented.”

The incident took place on Nov. 18, at the height of the Occupy movement that had spread to cities and campuses across the country. On that day, UC Davis campus police were ordered to take apart an encampment set up by protesters at the university.

Police officers told investigators that they felt trapped by protesters and used pepper spray to break out. In an now-iconic image from the Occupy movement, campus Police Lt. John Pike walked slowly past a line of crouched students, spraying them with a stream of neon-orange pepper spray.

Photographs and video of the incident went viral and triggered widespread condemnation of the campus police.

Video spreads of UC Davis cops pepper spraying Occupy students

The UC Davis report, which accompanies a 150-page assessment by Kroll, a risk management group based in San Diego, found that the officers’ claims that they were trapped was mostly unfounded.

“On balance, there is little basis supporting Lt. Pike’s belief that he was trapped by the protesters or that his officers were prevented from leaving the Quad,” the report said. “Further, there is little evidence that any protesters attempted to use violence against the police.”

Read the full report

The Kroll report added that UC Davis police are not authorized to use such powerful pepper spray, the MK-9.

“The MK-9 is a higher pressure type of pepper spray than what officers normally carry on their utility belts (MK-4),” the report said.

Nor was Pike trained in using that type of pepper spray, the report continued. It appeared he sprayed the protesters at closer range than six feet, as advised. (Pike refused to be interviewed for the report and remains on leave, as does the chief of UC Davis campus police.) 

The task force, headed by retired state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, was commissioned by University of California President Mark G. Yudof. Chancellor Linda Katehi, who heads UC Davis, had asked the president to put together the task force after she came under fire for the pepper spray incident.

The report criticizes Katehi, however, for being vague in her instructions to campus police before they went to take down the encampment.

“The only message communicated to the police was the ambiguous suggestion that the Chancellor and the Provost did not want the police operation ‘to be like Berkeley,’” the report said. At the UC Berkeley campus, police had beaten Occupy protesters with batons.

Video: Occupy movement takes violent turn at Berkeley

The Kroll and Reynoso reports were not released until Wednesday because the police union said that some parts would violate privacy rules, the Los Angeles Times reported. The newspaper reported that Pike has received death threats and that pranksters have orders pizzas to be delivered to his home.

In conclusion, the task force recommended that the University of California evaluate its police forces “to ensure that they reflect the distinct needs of a university community.”

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