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UC Davis police defend use of pepper spray on Occupy protesters

November 20, 2011 | 11:07 am

UC Davis police officials said officers used pepper spray on Occupy protesters on campus Friday after the demonstrators had surrounded officers.

Police said the officers were trying to get out of the protest area when they used the pepper spray.

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza told reporters Saturday that the decision to use the pepper spray was made at the scene. "The students had encircled the officers," she said. "They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out."

Videos of the event showed a police officer dousing the protesters with a canister of pepper spray as they sat huddled on the ground. The police had been attempting to clear the university's Quad of tents and campers. The videos made it appear the officers were in no immediate danger.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi initially did not criticize the police, but she said Saturday that she had since watched the video and reviewed more accounts from the scene.

"It left me with a very bad feeling of what went on," Katehi said in a telephone interview. "There was enough information to show that we need to take a serious look at what happened."

In a statement on the school's website, she didn't address whether officers had been surrounded:

"During the early afternoon hours and because of the request to take down the tents, many students decided to dismantle their tents, a decision for which we are very thankful. However, a group of students and noncampus affiliates decided to stay. The university police then came to dismantle the encampment. The events of this intervention have been videotaped and widely distributed. As indicated in various videos, the police used pepper spray against the students who were blocking the way. The use of pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this."

Geoffrey Wildanger, a graduate student in art history, said he was sprayed "in my ears and my nose. It hurts a lot. You feel like your whole body is on fire."

He said the police overreacted. "The cops weren't threatened in any way."

Two students were treated at a hospital and released and several others were arrested, officials said.


Protesters force UC Davis chancellor to halt news conference

UC Davis chancellor forms task force in wake of pepper-spraying

-- Paul Pringle, Sam Quinones and Shelby Grad