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Santa Monica College to investigate pepper-spraying of protesters

April 4, 2012 |  9:34 am

Santa Monica College officials said Wednesday they planned to launch an investigation into a pepper-spraying incident in which at least two were hospitalized and several others injured when the aerosol was dispersed into a crowd of protesters.

About 100 students were protesting Tuesday night at the Board of Trustees meeting against a plan to offer higher-priced courses at the college this summer. Some protesters suffered minor injuries as campus police tried to prevent dozens of students chanting "Let us in, let us in" and "No cuts, no fees, education should be free" from disrupting the meeting during a public comment period.

Several also were overcome when pepper spray was released just outside the meeting room as officers tried to break up the crowd. Police are investigating the circumstances of when the pepper spray was used and by whom.

Cameron Espinoza said she was outside the board meeting, near the back of the crowd, when she heard screams.

"I saw all these students rushing and they were crying," said Espinoza, 19, who is director of outreach for the student government. "I couldn't stop coughing." No arrests were made.

The meeting room was cleared, and trustees adjourned to another room. Santa Monica police were called in to secure the perimeter of the building. College President Chui Tsang said the small boardroom wasn't able to accommodate all of the students who wanted to speak and that an adjacent room had been provided for the overflow.

"We expected some students, but we didn't expect that big of a crowd with such enthusiasm," Tsang said.

When the meeting resumed, most of the students were allowed to address trustees from an adjoining room. Many urged the board to find other solutions to maintain access.

"This is a Band-Aid on a gushing wound and will not be a sustainable solution," said Parker Jean, 19, a political science major.

Board Chair Margaret Quinones-Perez announced at the end of the comment period that the college would pay medical bills for any students who suffered injuries during the disturbance.

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Police to crack down on texting, putting on makeup while driving

-- Carla Rivera in Santa Monica and Thomas Curwen in Los Angeles

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