Officers in pepper spray incident put on leave

University of California, Davis Police pepper-spray students who refused to move out of their way, on the UCD campus Friday, November 18, 2011.
YouTube/AggieTV

SAN FRANCISCO - Two University of California, Davis police officers involved in pepper-spraying seated protesters are being placed on administrative leave as the chancellor of the school accelerates the investigation into the incident.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi on Sunday said she has been inundated with reaction over the incident, in which an officer dispassionately fires pepper spray on a line of sitting demonstrators.

Video of the incident was circulated widely on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on Saturday, in which protesters flinch and cover their faces but remain passive with their arms interlocked, as onlookers shriek and scream out for the officer to stop.

The university's faculty association called on Katehi to resign, saying in a letter there had been a "gross failure of leadership."

Katehi said she takes "full responsibility for the incident" but has resisted calls for her resignation, instead pledging to take actions to make sure "that this does not happen again."

At a news conference Saturday, Katehi said what the video shows is, "sad and really very inappropriate."

"I do not think that I have violated the policies of the institution," she said. "I have worked personally very hard to make this campus a safe campus for all."

Outrage over police pepper-spraying students
Video: Police pepper-spray passive students

However, a law enforcement official who watched the clip called the use of force "fairly standard police procedure."

Katehi remained in a media room for more than two hours after the news conference Saturday, eventually walking to an SUV past a group of students nearly three blocks long who, in a coordinated effort, remained completely silent. The Sacramento Bee said.

Below is video from CBS Station KOVR of Katehi leaving the building

The protest was held in support of the overall Occupy Wall Street movement and in solidarity with protesters at the University of California, Berkeley who were jabbed by police with batons on Nov. 9.

Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department's use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a "compliance tool" that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters.

"When you start picking up human bodies, you risk hurting them," Kelly said. "Bodies don't have handles on them."

After reviewing the video, Kelly said he observed at least two cases of "active resistance" from protesters. In one instance, a woman pulls her arm back from an officer. In the second instance, a protester curls into a ball. Each of those actions could have warranted more force, including baton strikes and pressure-point techniques.

"What I'm looking at is fairly standard police procedure," Kelly said.

Images of police actions have served to galvanize support during the Occupy Wall Street movement, from the clash between protesters and police in Oakland last month that left an Iraq War veteran with serious injuries to more recent skirmishes in New York City, San Diego, Denver and Portland, Ore.

Some of the most notorious instances went viral online, including the use of pepper spray on an 84-year-old activist in Seattle and a group of women in New York. Seattle's mayor apologized to the activist, and the New York Police Department official shown using pepper spray on the group of women lost 10 vacation days after an internal review.

In the video of the UC Davis protest, the officer, a member of the university police force, displays a bottle before spraying its contents on the seated protesters in a sweeping motion while walking back and forth. Most of the protesters have their heads down, but several were hit directly in the face.

Some members of a crowd gathered at the scene scream and cry out. The crowd then chants, "Shame on You," as the protesters on the ground are led away. The officers retreat minutes later with helmets on and batons drawn.

Ten people were arrested.

Nine students hit by pepper spray were treated at the scene, two were taken to hospitals and later released, university officials said.

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said the decision to use pepper spray was made at the scene.

"The students had encircled the officers," she said Saturday. "They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out."

Many Twitter and Facebook comments supported the students and criticized the response.

"Stomach churning video of police using pepper spray on seated anti-Wall Street protesters in Davis, Calif.," actress Mia Farrow wrote in a retweet of the video.