Protesters were refusing to remove tents from campus' central quad
Originally Published: Saturday, November 19 2011, 11:47 AM
Updated: Sunday, November 20 2011, 10:46 AM
The University of California, Davis announced it is launching an investigation after a disturbing videotape surfaced showing a police officer in riot gear heavily pepper-spraying a group of student protesters who were seated on the ground on campus.
In a statement posted on her website on Saturday afternoon, Chancellor Linda Katehi wrote she would be forming a task force of faculty, students and staff to review the incident.
“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,” she wrote.
Katehi also called the video "sad and really very inappropriate" in a press conference on Saturday, but hit back at widespread calls for her resignation.
"I do not think that I have violated the policies of the institution," Katehi said, according to The Associated Press. "I have worked personally very hard to make this campus a safe campus for all."
The demonstrators were participating in the "Occupy UC Davis" movement on Friday when the altercation occured. The video -- first released by NBC's KCRA-TV - was shot by a witness and shows numerous observers watching in horror as a campus police officer douses the students in yellow mist.
"Police came and brutalized them and tore their tents down and all that stuff. It was really scary. It felt like there was anarchy everywhere," student Hisham Alihbob told KCRA.
Police told the TV station that students were given until 3 p.m. on Friday to dismantle their tents from the university's quad.
A spokesman for the protesters told the News that they had also received written warnings to remove their tents.
As with many Occupy protests around the country, the demonstrators refused to cede to the cops' demands and defied officials' orders.
A little more than an hour after the deadline, police arrived and were met with approximately 50 protesters who linked arms and surrounded their tent city, a university spokeswoman told the Sacramento Bee.
After a crowd of about 200 people gathered to watch the standoff, cops decided to pepper spray to keep the protesters at bay, the spokeswoman added.
From the video, which has gone viral, it doesn't appear that police were threatened at all. The protesters were sitting down on the ground with their heads bowed when a single cop raised a pepper spray can in the air and then walked down the line drenching them in it.
An Occupy Davis spokesman told the News that the group had gone out of their way to remain calm and peaceful.
“One person yelled ‘f the police’ and as soon as they did that we all yelled ‘no don’t antagonize the police,’” he said.
Yet some in law enforcement have defended the police actions. Former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant Charles J. Kelly examined the video for the AP, calling the use of pepper spray "fairly standard police procedure" in light of what he saw as at least two instances of "active resistance" from the protesters.
At least 10 demonstrators were arrested on Friday and 11 people were treated for injuries on campus. Two had to be taken to the hospital, Fox 40 News reported.
The chancellor’s announcement on Saturday came less than 24 hours after she slammed the protesters on her website, claiming the police had no option.
Kaheti, in her statement on Saturday, said she would ask for a report from the task force within 90 days.
The Occupy Davis spokesman argued that Kaheti caved because of a petition circulating calling for her to resign.
“She’s caving to the pressure,” he added.
CAUTION: VIDEO MAY BE DISTURBING