Pepper spray incident spurs FOIA/State Public Records Act requests

by Dan Bacher

On November 22, UC Davis alumni submitted a series of requests for documents to the campus administration and the UC Office of the President under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and State Public Records Act as part of the response to the horrific pepper spraying of students peacefully protesting on the campus quad November 18.

The video of the November 18 pepper spraying incident (You Tube link) has gone viral throughout the world. The outrage over the police action has prompted UC Davis students and alumni to call for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi – and Occupy Sacramento lawyers to call on Governor Jerry Brown to arrest the officers involved in the shocking pepper spray attack.

Students and alumni are seeking to discover who ordered the police raid and why it was ordered, according to a news release from Kelsey Skaggs, a UC Davis alumna. They are also looking for the internal discussions that they feel have resulted in the administration actively disseminating misinformation about the events.

“The campus administration lied to the media,” said UC Davis student Eric Lee, who attended Friday’s protest. “They pepper sprayed a whole line of people and then tried to make us look like the bad guys. It’s absurd.”

Lee referred to the administration’s assertions that protesters surrounded police officers, cutting them off from support. Students who were present deny that this occurred; images show students peacefully seated in a ring with police stepping over them.

Student, faculty, and alumni groups are calling for an outside investigation of Friday’s incident, saying that the University of California cannot be trusted to investigate its own abuses. Many fear that Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi and University of California President Mark G. Yudof will use the investigation to evade responsibility for the attack on students and to avoid making meaningful reform.

Members of the UC Davis community expressed fears that the individual police officers involved would be made scapegoats for what is clearly a systemic lack of respect for students’ right to protest.

“This is a pattern,” said Kelsey Skaggs, a UC Davis alumna. “Since the University of California began dramatic tuition increases in 2009, its police have repeatedly used violence against non-violent protesters.”At a peaceful protest last November, a UC Irvine police officer pointed a loaded gun at students, according to Skaggs. Police at UC Berkeley have repeatedly used batons to break up protests.

“Students and alumni hope that the results of the Freedom of Information Act requests will give them insight into the administration’s use of violent tactics and the internal response to last Friday’s incident,” Skaggs concluded.

On Monday, over 5,000 people took back the quad at UC Davis in response to the pepper-spray attack against students and against fee increases in the University of California system. Chancellor Katehi made an appearance early Monday afternoon on the Quad, where she apologized for the Friday incident.

“I’m here to apologize,” she told the crowd in the largest showing to date in a week of protests tied to tuition increases, the national Occupy movement and the campus Police Department’s excessive use of force.

“I really feel horrible for what happened on Friday,” Katehi said. “If you don’t want to be students at a university that treats its students like this, I don’t want to be the chancellor of the university we had on Friday.”

On the same day that UC Davis alumni submitted a series of requests for documents, University of California President Yudof agreed to establish an “advisory panel” to study the Nov. 18 events on the UC Davis Quad that led to the pepper-spraying of protestors and the arrest of 10 individuals.

Yudof’s office also announced Tuesday that it has reached out to William Bratton, describing him as “one of the nation’s foremost authorities on law enforcement,” to lead an “independent review” of the Nov. 18 events and prepare a report to be presented to the president and the advisory panel.

Bratton is a former New York City police commissioner, former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Boston police commissioner. Bratton, who now heads the New York-based Kroll consulting company, also is a “renowned expert in progressive community policing,” according to a UC Davis news release.

“My intent is to provide the chancellor and the entire University of California community with an independent, unvarnished report about what happened at Davis,” said Yudof.

However, Skaggs said the appointment of Bratton was very problematic, based on some statements that Bratton made in an August 12, 2011 interview with The U.K. Telegraph, where he claimed that many young people in Great Britain had been “emboldened” by “over-cautious” policing tactics and “lenient sentencing policies” in referring to demonstrations that erupted into looting.

Bratton said police forces should be “more assertive in their dealings with offenders, leaving no doubt that crime would always meet a firm response,” according to The Telegraph.

“You want the criminal element to fear them, fear their ability to interrupt their own ability to carry out criminal behaviour, and arrest and prosecute and incarcerate them,” he told The Telegraph. “In my experience, the younger criminal element don’t fear the police and have been emboldened to challenge the police and effectively take them on.”

Skaggs emphasized, “These quotes indicate that Bratton is not necessarily as friendly to the right to peaceful protest as somebody we would like to see in this position. I think that people shouldn’t be afraid of their police forces. It’s very clear that Bratton has a different point of view in which the fear of police force is a legitimate tactic.”

“My worry is that this attitude would be applied to the campus situation. The people who are demonstrating on the UC Davis and other campuses are certainly acting within their right to assemble,” she noted.

“People protesting or occupying can sometimes expect to get arrested. What they shouldn’t expect is unprovoked, unwarranted violence,” Skaggs concluded.

For more information, contact: Kelsey Skaggs, (650) 557-5500.

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