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Report Faults UC Davis Administrators, Police In Pepper Spray Incident

Nov. 18, 2011: Occupy protesters get sprayed at University of California Davis.
Nov. 18, 2011: Occupy protesters get sprayed at University of California Davis.

As they sought to quell a November protest at the University of California-Davis, campus police officers' "decision to use pepper spray was not supported by objective evidence and not authorized by policy," according to a review of the incident released Wednesday.

The report concludes, "The pepper spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented."

Among the university's mistakes, the report says:

  • School officials were hasty in removing the Occupy tents.
  • The dismantlement should have taken place either in the morning or at night.
  • Officers were not properly instructed about levels of acceptable force.
  • The pepper spray used is not an authorized weapon on campus.
  • And, as cited in The California Aggie, the school's newspaper, "there was no evidence that showed that UCDPD officers had been trained in using the pepper spray."

    The report also notes that the incident both caused widespread outrage and went viral online.

    The review, which many are calling the Reynoso Report, comes from a task force led by former California Supreme Court Associate Justice Cruz Reynoso. The release of the report's more than 180 pages had been delayed by a police union's request to withhold the names of police officers mentioned in the analysis.

    Most of those names have been removed from the report, which is available online.

    The report includes several transcriptions of campus police testimony. Among them was a description of the conversations leading up to the pepper-spraying incident. The source of the following narrative is named as Leticia Garcia-Hernandez, the campus police dispatch supervisor:

    "'According to Garcia-Hernandez, Chief Spicuzza informed Lieutenant Pike and Office P 'I don't want what happened at Berkeley. Oh my God.' The Lieutenant replied that 'we don't know the full story of what happened in Berkeley. Of course the images that you see on TV will always be one-sided.' They also said, 'we don't want anyone to get hurt [and] that includes the officers.'"

    "Chief Spicuzza and the Lieutenants discussed the use of batons and pepper spray, with Spicuzza saying that she didn't want them to be used. According to Garcia-Hernandez, 'Both the Lieutenants echoed back to her, 'nobody wants to do that. But we can't predict if we're gonna have to use them.'"

    "Although she cautioned that she couldn't speak for Chief Spicuzza, Garcia-Hernandez believed that the Lieutenants made Chief Spicuzza aware that both pepper ball guns and pepper spray were among the less-lethal weapons that they would have at their disposal. In response, Chief Spicuzza 'lifted her hand up off the table, waved to them, like, "No, no. We don't wanna use that kinda thing."' The Lieutenants replied 'we know we're not supposed to use it, but ... it's the less lethal tool that we have.'"

    "Spicuzza replied 'Yeah, yeah, I understand' and the conversation moved on to the mutual aid response."

    "Garcia-Hernandez was familiar with the small canisters of pepper spray that the officers carried on their waist, but had never seen the larger MK-9 canister 'until the day of the video.' Garcia-Hernandez was not aware that the Lieutenants specified which pepper spray they were referring to during the conversation; she stated 'I just assumed that pepper spray meant whatever kind of spray that they had.'"

    Some of the Occupy protesters who took part in the November incident filed a federal lawsuit against university officials — including UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and campus police Lt. John Pike — in February. They are being assisted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

    Here is the video of the event:

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    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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