State lawmakers in California are looking into the oversight of campus police departments after officials at Davis pepper-sprayed demonstrators last November.
In a report released Wednesday, a UC Davis task force said the decision to douse seated Occupy protesters with the eye-stinging chemical was “objectively unreasonable” and not authorized by campus policy.
The task force, chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, concluded that there had been no credible reason to use the pepper spray and blamed the incident on poor planning and decision making from all levels of the school administration. The task force mentioned that underfire Chancellor Linda Katehi was directly to blame for not ordering that physical force not be used on protestors. After videos of the incident went viral the still of one officer spraying protesters seated on the floor became a key image for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“Free speech, including nonviolent protest, is part of the DNA of this university, and it must be protected with vigilance,” the UC president said in a statement.
Fatima Sbeih, one of the pepper-sprayed students who are suing the administrators over the incident, said she was pleased by the report’s thoroughness.
“The university was acting on assumption and fear rather than following policy and procedure,” Sbeih said. “Students do have a right to protest, and the university needs to respect that.”
A lawyer for the campus police officers union disagreed with the report’s findings and said that he believed officers exercised more than adequate restraint. John Bakhit noted that the task force failed to interview one officer who was singled out for criticism, Lt John Pike. He said that an internal department investigation was ongoing.
At this stage it is unclear what form state legislation will take.
Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Democrat whose district includes UC Berkeley, also said she would pursue legislation based on the report’s recommendations to improve the training, organization and operation of campus police departments.