Passive Occupy protesters take pepper spray blast in the face at close range; officers placed on leave
SAN FRANCISCO — 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 an investigation into the incident amid calls for her resignation.
Officials at the University of California, Davis refused to identify the two officers 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 Friday clearly shows one riot-gear clad officer dousing the line of protesters with spray as they sat in a line with their arms intertwined. Spicuzza told the AP that the second officer was identified during an intense review of several videos.
She said the probe will be done by an independent investigator not yet selected.
“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 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. 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.
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.
While images of the pepper spraying sparked outrage among many, others have 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.
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 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. “
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. San Francisco police Officer Albie Esparza protesters were arrested on charges of interfering with officers.
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.