The task force investigating the Nov. 18 pepper spray incident released its final report yesterday, distributing responsibility evenly between the chancellor, campus administrators and various police officials.
The 190-page report definitively affirmed that officers were in the wrong to use military-grade pepper spray on student demonstrators, disputed officers’ claims that they were surrounded or harassed by protesters and questioned whether there was any basis for legal action at all. Additionally, the task force recommended a full review of the Davis police force by an outside party and the development of a new set of widely accepted policies by campus administration.
Task force head Cruz Reynoso, a UC Davis law professor and former California Supreme Court justice, said the findings illustrate that the incident was entirely avoidable.
“Our whole report is capsulated by the first sentence: ‘The pepper-spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented,’” Reynoso said. “Objectively, there was really no reason we conclude to have used the pepper spray. Objectively speaking, there was no reason or basis for them to indeed have any fear or to have done what they did.”
In the report, the task force also makes the case that protesters were legally allowed to have tents until nightfall, calling to question the legality of forcibly dispersing demonstrators at 3 p.m. Additionally, the decision to act in the afternoon rather than late at night increased the demonstration turnout and provoked more retaliation, according to the report.
“The timing of a police operation is an important tactical decision,” the report said. “Conducting the operation during the daytime may have jeopardized the legal basis for the operation. More importantly, it may well have contributed to the size of the crowd responding to the police action, a factor that increased the likelihood of a confrontation between the protesters and the police.”
In a letter to the campus community, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said she was grateful for the report and hoped its release would guide the campus as it seeks to rebuild its reputation for tolerance and free speech.
“I am gratified that the Reynoso report is available to all of us as we continue efforts to make UC Davis a model for tolerance, inclusivity and constructive, spirited dialogue,” Katehi said. “We all can learn from the difficult events of last November; this report will help us do that. We will immediately begin to study and assess the report’s recommendations and develop a detailed response and action plan.”