UC Davis Launches Investigation into Pepper Spray Incident

Further, there was another example of police violence at UCD earlier this week.

Via the AP:  UC Davis launches probe after pepper spray video

The chancellor of the University of California, Davis described the video images as "chilling" and said she was forming a task force to investigate even as a faculty group called for her resignation because of the incident Friday.

"The use of the pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this," Chancellor Linda Katehi said in a message posted on the school’s web site on Saturday.

Katehi’s words come across as rather hollow, given that she was the one that ordered the clearing of the students in the first place.   Further, she sent an e-mail (see here) to the university community that appears to express support for the action.

While Katehi may be launching an investigation, the Davis Faculty Association is calling for her resignation:

"The Chancellor’s role is to enable open and free inquiry, not to suppress it," the faculty association said in its letter.

It called Katehi’s authorization of police force a "gross failure of leadership."

At a news conference later on Saturday, Katehi said what the video shows is "sad and really very inappropriate." The events surrounding the protest have been hard on her personally, but she had no plans to resign, she said.

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

I am unaware of the relative power of the Davis faculty or its Faculty Association, but a a sufficiently motivated faction of a given faculty can very much be in a position to force a chancellor’s resignation.  The force of public opinion will certainly aid such a move. 

Beyond the pepper spray incident, there was another confrontation between the UCD police and occupy protestors earlier in the week.   The link noted above is to a blog post from a UCD grad student that contains a thorough round up of the situation, including the text of an open letter to Chancellor Katehi from Nathan Brown, a UC Davis assistant professor of english.

In that letter Brown notes:

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons,hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

So the events of yesterday are a follow on from the events of Tuesday.  The events from Tuesday underscore that Katehi clearly endorses the campus police reacting with violence towards the protestors.  Knowing what happened on Tuesday without changing policy and then sending out the police in a similar fashion yesterday is a tacit endorsement of Tuesday’s action and therefore she can’t pretend like what happened yesterday was a surprise.

The video from Tuesday is here:

What in the world are the police even trying to accomplish here?

To repeat the words of the Faculty Association: “The Chancellor’s role is to enable open and free inquiry, not to suppress it.”

Indeed, and Katehi should lose her job over these incidences.

Brown’s letter, by the way, should be read in full.

Update: More video, including a female faculty member being yanked by the hair by the police when she is not offering resistance (indeed, appears to be holding out her wrists to submit to arrest)”

The police reaction is wholly unjustified. Yes, the protesters are not obeying orders, but they are certainly not responding with violence.

FILED UNDER: Education, Policing, US Politics, , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    One such incident makes a “S%!#, why did you do what I asked you to do?” management moment. Two make her response a case of the chancellor trying to throw the campus police under the bus for following her orders. Not good–and badly done (I agree, the tone is nowhere near contrite enough).

    Maybe “educational leadership” programs will need to add courses where the prospective “leaders” listen to things like Nixon’s “Checker’s Speech” and Clinton’s admission about Monica Lewinsky so that they can learn how to be convincing when they are making these speeches and writing their apologies.

  2. Gustopher says:

    This will continue until suing the police becomes routine.

    The investigation is just a delaying tactic, to retro wait for the outrage to dissipate. Then it will be acknowledged that “mistakes were made”.

    DAs will never charge the police with assault.

    The victims of this police brutality should sue — sue the cop who sprayed, the commanding officer on the scene, and the department.

  3. doubter4444 says:

    I think these type of actions may be the tipping point – but for another issue – I hope and thing these events will allow people seriously question the rise of a para-military police force and the violence that it engenders.
    And about time.

    You don’t have to be Radely Balko to see the insane escalation of the police force, even as crime hits record lows.

  4. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    Still in all, this is a far cry from China at Tiennamin Square or Daejeon, Korea in 1985 (IIRC).

  5. SimonB says:

    Former professor Brown should consider his resignation accepted. If Katehi should be ashamed of anything, it’s that she waited this long before resolving the situation, and that she allwos the university to pay Mr. Brown, whose position, it should be noted, is to teach Crit, a subject of negative net value to society. Contrary to Mr. Brown’s assertion, he is not “the sort of young faculty member” that any campus needs, still less an “asset to the University of California at Davis.” So again, Mr. Brown, your resignation is accepted; good riddance.

  6. michael reynolds says:


    Fortunately people like you won’t end up deciding this matter.

    She’s done, she ought be done, I will drink to her disappearance from public life.

  7. @Just nutha ig’rant cracker:

    Still in all, this is a far cry from China at Tiennamin Square or Daejeon, Korea in 1985 (IIRC).

    Yes, but God help us if those should be standards of comparison for US police actions (and on a college campus, no less).

  8. RW Rogers says:

    What I find so surprising about all this is that these are not local police but actual campus police, employees of the University of California itself. As a result, they all undergo rigorous sensitivity training, and tend to be highly educated. Never occurred to me that they might act as they apparently have. For that matter, same goes for the local Davis PD. Davis would be considered a very progressive city even if the university wasn’t so large. Pity.

  9. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @RW Rogers: On the planet Zoltar (and maybe at the school you went to), campus police officers undergo the training you are talking about. On the campuses that I have taught at, the chief of the campus police has ususally been a small town sheriff who either medicaled out or wanted a pay raise and the officers have been to mall security school…or not depending on the employment market.

  10. Ron Beasley says:

    In China they use the military to control the population. In the US of A we militarize the police. I suspect the plutocrats have seen what’s happened in Egypt and are very worried.

  11. @Gustopher:

    This will continue until suing the police becomes routine.

    Actually, if the police keep behaving like this, at some point something like this is going to happen:


  12. Brainster says:

    Note that Assistant Professor Brown lies in his letter when he describes the police forcing open the mouths of the students to spray pepper spray down their throats. I have watched three videos of the episode and viewed 54 images taken by a Cal-Davis campus photographer; none of them depict what he claimed. And I am curious as to just how the police would be able to force open the mouths of the students anyway.

    The letter is also appallingly poorly written for a faculty member of the English Department. To note just one silly error, he writes:

    “In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs.”

    “In a word” and he goes on to write 16 words.

  13. Xenos says:

    @Brainster: So you were not an eyewitness, but you declare a putative eyewitness to be a liar because it was not caught on tape?

    Brown may or may not be telling the truth, but you are quite obviously bullshitting here.

  14. ponce says:

    You don’t have to be Radely Balko to see the insane escalation of the police force, even as crime hits record lows.

    These types of police tactics have always been standard operating procedure when deaingl with minorities and the poor.

    The only escalation is the police are now using them against upper middle class white people.

  15. Delmar says:

    These people need to use more effective methods: get involved in the community and help people, get involved in politics and even run for office, get involved in organizations that actually bring about change: churches, charitable groups, shelters, Rotary clubs, the Scouts, etc. In this way they can actually help people and get something done instead of sitting around in the street, trashing parks. and disrupting local businesses. Doing something positive requires some work; maybe that’s their problem.

  16. Herb says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I suspect the plutocrats have seen what’s happened in Egypt and are very worried.

    I wish I could say I agree… I just don’t get the sense that “the plutocrats” are worried about anything other than losing their jobs. For instance, Katehi may worry about being forced to resign after over-reacting, or being replaced for under-reacting. But she’s not worried like Gaddafi was worried….

    Part of that is the non-violent nature of the protests. Part of that is the relatively comforting fact that the protesters may be beaten, arrested, and charged with crimes, but they won’t be “disappeared” or sent to some gulag for the rest of their lives. (Yes, the system is rigged, but it’s not that rigged.)

    I think one thing this shows is the need for the protesters to get organized and tactical. The plutocrats don’t need to be in fear of their lives. But it would be nice if they were in fear of being outmaneuvered.

  17. Delmar says:

    @Herb: I have said the same thing: get organized, form a leadership team with policies and a few coherent, succinct, realistic goals, form a plan of action, get involved in politics, be positive, quit asking for a free ride (it turns off middle class Americans), obey the law (many of their actions also turn off the law abiding middle class), clean yourselves up (the civil rights marchers of the ’60’s wore suits), and leave your drugs and marijuana cigarettes at home.

  18. Delmar says:

    Nathan Brown: I assume that this person is employed by the University and therefore paid with taxpayers’ money. He needs to do what he was hired to do: teach, not run around creating a big scene. I don’t know what his classes are, but I hope that they actually teach something worthwhile to the students: civics, American history, the Constitution, etc.

  19. Pete says:

    @Just nutha ig’rant cracker: You obviously didn’t teach English grammar as you ended a sentence with a preposition and you misspelled “medicaled,” if in fact it is a proper use of the English language to describe your intent.

  20. Neil Hudelson says:

    Stylistically you used too many clauses in one sentence, and you failed to use a conjunction to link two separate clauses. In other words, you created a run on sentence. Quite a few of your clauses are lacking punctuation that would distinguish one clause from the next.

    “If, in fact, it is a proper use of the…”

    But how about we criticize ideas rather than grammar, eh?

  21. @Neil Hudelson:

    But how about we criticize ideas rather than grammar, eh?

    Nitpicking grammar and such is just so much easier.

  22. Barry says:

    @Brainster: “And I am curious as to just how the police would be able to force open the mouths of the students anyway.”

    Go into a bar, and bet somebody $100 that they can’t, and go into the alley with them.
    Your curiosity will be satisfied.