UC Davis police chief placed on leave after excessive force allegations
DAVIS, Calif.—The chief of the UC Davis Police Department was placed on administrative leave Monday following allegations that police officers used excessive force to disperse protesting students.
On Friday, UC Davis police officers were ordered to clear protesting students and their encampment from the school’s quad. A video of the police action, which has gone viral on the Internet, shows a UC Davis police officer using pepper spray against a group of seemingly non-violent students huddled on the ground. Two students were sent to the hospital to be treated for pepper spray, and 10 were arrested on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and failure to disperse, according to The Los Angeles Times.
After reviewing the video, UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi on Monday placed Chief Annette Spicuzza on administrative leave pending a review of the incident and the allegations of excessive force. The two officers involved were also placed on leave over the weekend. Not appeased, protesters are now calling for Katehi's resignation, which she has refused to offer, according to the newspaper.
In a prepared statement, Katehi said placing the police chief on leave was “a necessary step toward restoring trust on our campus.” In an interview on KQED, a local radio station, Katehi said the video was “horrific” and that UC Davis police officers “were not supposed to use force, it was never called for.” Likewise, University of California President Mark G. Yudof said in a statement that he was “appalled” by the images.
Spicuzza on Saturday defended the officers’ use of pepper spray. “The students had encircled the officers,” she told reporters, according to the Los Angeles Times. “They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out.”
Paul Verrecchia, chief of police at the College of Charleston and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, told Security Director News that the short video clip doesn't offer enough information to determine whether the level of force used against the protesters was warranted. “Based on the 20 to 30 seconds of video I’ve seen, I can’t make a comment,” he said. “I don't know what happened that led up to the decision to try to move the protesters.”
The U.S. Supreme Court case that addresses allegations of excessive use of force—Graham v. Connor—grants police officers the right to use whatever reasonable force is necessary to accomplish their law enforcement goals, Verrecchia said. “The other thing the court said was that any judgment of use of force must be based on the facts officers have at the time of the decision to use the level of force they end up using,” he said. “That basically eliminates Monday morning quarterbacking of an officer’s decision.”
Katehi has created a task force that will conduct a review of the incident and offer recommendations within 30 days. Katehi also requested that the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office investigate the UC Davis Police Department’s use of force, which it has agreed to do in coordination with the county sheriff's office, according to a university news release. Verrecchia said such an investigation is common whenever there are allegations of excessive force. “Many times it may be the agency [conducting the investigation], but in this case I could see bringing in an outside body because it appears it went all the way up to the chief,” he said.