UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident Was Wrong, Preventable

By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 11, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Officials have released a task force report on November’s UC Davis pepper spray incident, and it looks like bad news for the capsaicin cop.

The task force determined that police should not have pepper-sprayed students participating in the Occupy Davis protest, reports KABC. It's up to the courts, however, to determine if they used excessive force.

In case you missed the viral videos, memes, and general hullabaloo in November, a group of Davis students appeared to be peacefully protesting while seated on the campus when Lt. John Pike pepper-sprayed the group. Footage of the incident shows the students covering their heads with their hands, while Pike casually walks down the line dousing the protestors.

The task force, led by retired state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, originally planned to release its 190-page report on March 6. The campus police officers' union sued to prevent the release, claiming the report was essentially an internal affairs investigation that should remain confidential. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo disagreed, and ruled on Tuesday that the full report -- with some officers' names redacted -- should be published, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The pepper spray task force's findings were not surprising. The group concluded that the incident "should and could have been prevented," and criticized UCD police and administrators for the poor decisions that led to the episode. Among the most interesting findings, the task force reported:

  • The decision to use pepper spray was not supported by objective evidence and was not authorized by policy.
  • The pepper spray used was not an authorized weapon on campus.
  • Lt. Pike bears primary responsibility for the objectively unreasonable decision to use pepper spray on the students sitting in a line, and for the manner in which the pepper spray was used.

The ACLU is assisting 19 UCD students and alumni in their excessive force lawsuit against UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and others, including campus police Lt. John Pike. Between the task force report and California pepper spray precedent, it looks like the law is on the plaintiffs' side.

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