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UC Davis Officials Under Fire Amid Outrage Over ‘Occupy’ Pepper Spraying

November 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
There was continuing criticism Monday about University of California, Davis police dousing student activists with pepper spray at close range during demonstrations over the weekend. Correspondent Spencer Michels reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to protests here in the U.S., where there was continuing criticism today about the way officials at a public university in California dealt with an Occupy group this weekend.

NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels has our report.

SPENCER MICHELS: It began on Friday afternoon at the University of California, Davis. Student protesters locked arms on the quad.

What happened next would send this Web video viral throughout the weekend. Police in riot gear began to pepper-spray the dozen or so Occupy Davis demonstrators at close range. Students in the nearby crowd shouted at the officers as the orange mist doused the faces of their peers.

Authorities say pepper spray is an inflammatory agent that renders people incapacitated, but only temporarily. University officials reported that, after the pepper-spraying, nine students were treated at the scene and two were taken to hospitals. Ten were arrested.

The video sparked outrage. Two unnamed officers were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. And University Chancellor Linda Katehi told listeners today on a call-in show at KQED Public Radio that she disagreed with the way the officers acted.

LINDA P.B. KATEHI, University of California, Davis: They were not supposed to use force. It was never called for. What they saw on the video, it has been horrific. And it’s not what really represents our campus. As an educator, as a human being, I felt that — I was filled with outrage.

SPENCER MICHELS: The origins of the incident began after students set up an encampment on Thursday to rally against tuition increases and support the larger Occupy Wall Street movement. Many students camped overnight, against university policy.

On Friday, campus police came to forcibly evict the remaining demonstrators. That’s when the officers used the pepper spray.

Campus police Chief Annette Spicuzza was placed on leave by university officials this morning. Yesterday, however, she wouldn’t comment on whether the officers acted appropriately.

ANNETTE SPICUZZA, University of California, Davis, police chief: It’s a very fluid, dynamic situation. These are split-second decisions. As police in general, we do the best we can. We’re here to serve and protect. And I know some people, many people, are very disappointed and/or shocked by what they saw. But I think this investigation will help either — will bring this to a closure, we hope; we will find some closure with this investigation.

SPENCER MICHELS: The incident also has sparked a number of calls for the chancellor to resign. But, over the weekend, Katehi said she saw no reason to do so.

LINDA P.B. KATEHI: I don’t believe that it is appropriate for me to resign at this point. Really, I do not think that I have violated the policies of the institution.

SPENCER MICHELS: In a move of solidarity, protesters from Occupy Sacramento gathered in Davis today, supporting the U.C. students. Katehi is giving a task force 30 days to issue a report on Friday’s controversy.

Here in San Francisco, 80 miles southwest of Davis, demonstrators remain in a downtown plaza where they have been for weeks. Over the weekend, police removed 12 tents from in front of the Federal Reserve building and they made six arrests. In addition, some of the demonstrators blocked Market Street temporarily.

And across the bay, Occupiers in Oakland rallied at a downtown park on Saturday. That demonstration ended Sunday morning without incident.