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UC Davis students sue over pepper spraying by campus police

February 22, 2012 | 12:12 pm

UC Davis pepper spray
Three months after being pepper sprayed or allegedly roughed up by UC Davis campus police during a demonstration, 19 students and alumni filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday claiming their free-speech rights were violated.

The suit names UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi as a defendant, along with several other campus administrators and campus police officers. It details allegations against campus Police Lt. John Pike, who the suit says sprayed the seated or crouching protesters at a distance of one to two feet, causing burning pain to their eyes and faces.

The students are seeking financial damages and policy changes in how UC handles protests.

“Our goal in this lawsuit is to ensure the university makes a clear commitment to protect free speech on campus and prevent this from ever happening again,” said Michael Risher, a staff attorney with American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, which is helping to represent the students.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of California and is expected to be heard in a Sacramento court.

UC Davis spokesman Barry Schiller released a statement saying campus attorneys and students’ lawyers have been talking.

“We hope those conversations continue. In the meantime, we’ve not seen the lawsuit and therefore aren’t in a position to comment on details,” he said.

The Nov. 18 pepper spray incident attracted much national attention through an online video of the event. It sparked debate throughout the UC system and is being investigated by a UC panel headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.


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-- Larry Gordon

Photo: UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters last November. Credit: Wayne Tilcock / The Davis Enterprise