Justice for pepper-sprayed UC Davis students

Photo: Brian Nguyen/The Aggie

Just like pornography, you know it when you see it: it’s just wrong. Last fall, a campus cop lackadaisically pepper-sprayed a cluster of seated U.C. Berkeley student protestors, just as if he were applying weedkiller. His pig-like face was completely unaffected by their screams of pain.

Now a court decision punishes U.C. Davis with a $1 million settlement for their police using excessive force and violating the students’ First Amendment rights. From the ACLU:

Today attorneys for 21 UC Davis students and recent alumni announced the details of their settlement of the federal class-action lawsuit against UC Davis over the shocking incident in which campus police repeatedly doused seated, non-violent student demonstrators with military grade pepper spray at close range. The lawsuit charged that the police violated state and federal constitutional protections, including the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, when they arrested and used excessive force against these non-violent demonstrators. The UC Regents approved the settlement in a September 13 meeting, and the settlement documents were filed with the court today. A federal court judge must approve the settlement before it is finalized.

The University’s response to seated student, non-violent protesters has been widely deemed unacceptable. A task force that the University created to investigate and analyze the response to the protestors concluded in an extensive report that “The pepper spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented,” and found culpability at all levels of the University administration and police force.

Let’s hope the unintended effect isn’t to punish California students indirectly with tuition hikes. Here are the specifics:

Terms of the Settlement

The settlement was filed today with the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, for review by a federal judge before it becomes final. The terms of the settlement include:

  • UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi will issue a formal written apology to each of the students and recent alumni who was pepper sprayed or arrested.
  • The University will pay $1 million as part of the settlement. This includes a total of $730,000 to the named plaintiffs and others who were arrested or pepper-sprayed on November 18. It will also include up to $250,000 in costs and attorney fees.
  • The University will work with the ACLU as it develops new policies on student demonstrations, crowd management, and use of force to prevent anything like the November 18 pepper spray incident from ever happening again. $20,000 of the settlement will go to the ACLU for its future work with the University on these policies to protect free speech and free expression on campus.
  • The case has been expanded to a class action lawsuit to make sure that anyone who was pepper-sprayed or arrested that day can be part of the settlement, even if they are not a named plaintiff. $100,000 of the total award will be set aside to compensate other individuals who were pepper-sprayed or wrongfully arrested on November 18, 2011.
  • The University will also assist students whose academic performance was adversely affected by the incident in applying for academic records adjustment.

“If the First Amendment means anything, it’s that you should be able to demonstrate without being afraid of police violence,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “What happened on November 18 was among the worst examples of police violence against student demonstrators that we’ve seen in a generation.”

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