A scathing report on UC Davis police pepper spraying seated, peaceful Occupy protesters in November harshly criticizes everyone involved from the UC Davis chancellor and campus police chief down to individual police officers.
Ineffective leadership, poor planning, failure to follow plans, faulty decisions and lack of communication all figured in the confrontation that sent around the world a video of a campus police officer streaming pepper spray into the faces of passive protesters, according to the 34-page report released Wednesday.
The incident raised alarming questions about campus and police leadership, said a UC task force led by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.
Among the problems noted: Campus police were not authorized to carry the pepper-spray device used on demonstrators and it was not even needed.
"Our overriding conclusion can be stated briefly and explicitly," the report states. "The pepper spraying incident that took place on Nov. 18, 2011, should and could have been prevented."
The panel directly criticized police brass and administrators, including Chancellor Linda Katehi and police Chief Annette Spicuzza, for their lack of leadership.
Panelists also singled out police Lt. John Pike for spraying protesters from much closer than the six-foot distance recommended by the MK-9 device's manufacturer. Officers were authorized to use less powerful spray cans, but not the MK-9, which
The panel generally recommended better training of police, university wide policies governing them, and Davis campus rules and policies on protests and use of force.
The university should implement the report's recommendations to repair the physical and emotional damage done at the protest, said Fatima Sbeih, a UC Davis senior from Oakland who said she was sprayed by Pike on Nov. 18.
"The university really needs to rethink its policies on everything," said Sbeih, who, along with 20 other students, has sued the university, police and administrators. "They continuously repress the free-speech rights of students."
A consulting firm also recommended a major rethinking. Kroll, an investigative company contracted by the university, recommended several major changes to the way UC campuses plan for and respond to protests. Reynoso's group used some of Kroll's recommendations.
Among the 11 recommendations in the final report were that UC adopt a systemwide policy requiring outside police departments to follow UC rules regarding the use of force.
The panel also suggested UC ask the Legislature to change portions of the Police Officers' Bill of Rights, a set of state laws, that prevented Kroll investigators from interviewing some officers.
The recommendations will be considered in a May 15 legislative hearing, said Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego.
In a letter to the campus, Katehi said she and other university leaders would "study and assess" the report. UC system President Mark Yudof said in a news release that he would meet with Katehi to decide what to do next.
An attorney for Pike and other officers said the task force did not speak to the officers involved and thus did not have the information needed to reach conclusions. Police officers had every reason to be nervous while they were surrounded by chanting protesters, said John Bakhit.
"All it would take is one spark for a mob mentality to happen and for those officers to be flattened," he said.
The UC Davis review contrasts significantly with a separate assessment of a protest nine days earlier at UC Berkeley. An assistant police chief at UCLA concluded that UC Berkeley officers, who used batons on protesters Nov. 9, should have been allowed to use pepper spray or tear gas but campus leaders prohibited that. However, that report also cited poor communication and oversight of the police.
The shortcomings on the Davis campus should result in severe punishment -- including possible firings -- for those involved, said Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska who the UC panel consulted. With Occupy and other protests more common on college campuses, the UC Davis incident should be a lesson, he said.
"It's a terrible failure on the part of campus leadership," Walker said. "I would say this is a wake-up call to campuses across the nation."
The Reynoso report confirms what protesters have argued, said Mark Merin, a Sacramento attorney who represents the students who sued the university.
"There was no indication that police force was required at all," he said.
Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Contact him at 510-208-6488. Follow him at Twitter.com/MattKrupnick.
Among suggestions for the campus, the police and the whole university, that the panel listed: