HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, appearing Tuesday before a joint hearing of Assembly and Senate education committees, discussed in detail the Nov. 18 pepper-spraying of protesters on campus.

Chancellor Linda Katehi lists her mistakes in UCD pepper-spray incident

Published: Wednesday, May. 16, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 17, 2012 - 10:06 am

Though she took "full responsibility" months ago, UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi detailed for lawmakers Tuesday specific mistakes she made in a campus pepper-spraying incident that sparked national headlines and outrage.

Katehi said she erred by setting a deadline to crack down on protesters camping at UCD and by having officers intervene in late afternoon.

"My senior administrators and I made mistakes of judgment and mistakes of execution," Katehi told a joint hearing of the Senate Education Committee and the Assembly Higher Education Committee in discussing UCD's handling of the tuition protest. "So did our campus police."

Katehi identified deficiencies in policies or procedures that contributed to the incident in which a campus officer sprayed a group of protesters sitting with arms locked on the sidewalk.

"I never wanted force used, but with 20-20 hindsight, I know the actions we took that day were wrong," Katehi said. "Well- intended, but wrong."

Katehi's comments were her most specific public mea culpa since the Nov. 18 incident in which about a dozen protesters were treated for effects of pepper spray.

UCD police officers' mission at the time was to put an end to camping on the UCD quad by a group of protesters.

Officers claimed that pepper spray was used only after they felt surrounded by a hostile crowd. Cruz Reynoso, a former California Supreme Court associate justice who spearheaded a fact-finding report, told lawmakers Tuesday that "videos indicate they were never surrounded."

Reynoso's report said Katehi failed to make clear that she wanted no force used in dispersing protesters, leaving top-level officials with different understandings of her position. The report also questioned Katehi's decision to disband campers at 3 p.m., rather than waiting until late at night.

"As chancellor, I seek advice from a number of senior administrators, but the decision to set a deadline for protesters' tents to be removed from our campus was mine," Katehi said.

"The decision to send in campus police to carry out those instructions in the middle of the day was also mine," she said.

Katehi said she feared that non-student protesters might place the safety of UCD students at risk, but "the reviews and investigations have made clear – that was not our greatest risk," she said.

"Instead, it was our own decision-making, our own internal processes and procedures that placed us at risk."

In the aftermath, UC Davis has hired a new campus police chief, contracted for officers to receive "real-life, scenario-based training," and plans a top-to-bottom audit of police operations, Katehi said.

UCD also is developing a "comprehensive blueprint for change" to be unveiled within the next few weeks, the chancellor said.

"As campus administrators, our job is to create policies and procedures to deal with whatever occurs as peacefully and appropriately as possible," she said.

Free speech and nonviolent protest are core values at UC, Katehi added. "We must never waver from those values, even as we protect the rights and ensure the safety of all campus community members."

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