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Report faults Santa Monica College officials in pepper-spray case

September 6, 2012 |  5:01 pm

Photo: Nnaemeka Alozie gets hosed off after being pepper sprayed outside the SMC Board of Trustees meeting on April 3. Credit: Michael Yanow
A melee outside a Santa Monica College Board of Trustees meeting in April that resulted in protesters being hit with pepper spray could have been prevented if college administrators had provided additional police resources and moved the gathering to a larger meeting hall, according to an internal police report obtained by The Times.

The 60-page review is based on interviews and video examined by the college's police department.

As many as 100 protesters had gathered for the April 3 meeting, angry over a proposed two-tiered fee plan in which high-demand courses would be priced higher. When dozens of people tried to force their way into the meeting room, a campus police sergeant deployed pepper spray. At least two people had to be taken to the hospital. A total of 30 people were treated by the Santa Monica Fire Department for exposure to pepper spray.

The report's findings have been handed over to a panel of Santa Monica College administrators conduction their own examination of school policies in relation to the incident.

Santa Monica Community College President Chui L. Tsang had no immediate comment on the SMC police report, according to spokesman Bruce Smith.

But sources familiar with the administrative investigation, who asked not to be named because a final report had not been released, said they were disappointed by the police review, describing it as incomplete and self-serving.

"Ultimately, the confrontation would never have occurred if the Police Department's earlier request for a larger venue through proper channels, in March 2012, had not been denied," the report concludes. 

The Student Organizing Committee was also cited. The report recommends the college police department "take a firmer approach in dealing with the SOC and other groups in the future that are desirous of organizing large gatherings."

The incident came to head shortly before 7 p.m. during the meeting's public comment period. After being exhorted by one of the student protesters, a crowd of several dozen people tried to push past two campus police sergeants manning the door.

One of the sergeants, identified in the report as J.B. Williams, was hit on the arm and prevented from closing the door as the crowd surged forward.

According to the report, "Sergeant Williams implored the crowd repeatedly to cooperate."

Moments later, Williams "fearing for his personal safety and the safety of his fellow officers, who continued to be assaulted by the crowd" deployed three short bursts of pepper spray directed at those around the door.

The report also notes that SMC Police Chief Albert Vasquez had received assurances prior to the April 3 meeting that "the escalation of tensions had potentially been diffused," suggesting that the presence of the Santa Monica Police Department and the UCLA Police Department "might not be necessary for the meeting."

As it turned out, a half a dozen officers, in addition to Vasquez, were on scene. However, as the report states, "Failure to disperse would have allowed Mutual Aid to be summoned from SMPD and UCLA PD, thereby providing sufficient units to make arrests if necessary." 


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Photo: Nnaemeka Alozie gets hosed off after being pepper sprayed outside the SMC Board of Trustees meeting on April 3. Credit: Michael Yanow