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Thousands rally at UC Davis after pepper spraying incident

Thousands gathered on UC Davis campus at noon Monday to talk about being pepper sprayed by police on campus during an Occupy protest Friday.

After a week of campus rallies, University Chancellor Linda Katehi ordered the removal of 25 tents on campus early Friday afternoon because of concerns about student safety and health and because university policy prohibits overnight camping, she wrote in a letter to the UC Davis community Saturday.

Officers were videoed spraying peacefully seated protesters, in some cases using pepper spray directly in their faces. The videos of the incident went viral online.

In response the university issued multiple statements and placed three police officers on administrative leave pending a review of Friday’s events.

[KPCC's Patt Morrison speaks about the incident with legal and criminal experts and a UC Davis student senator on her show.]

Katehi also spoke to UC Davis students at the afternoon rally and was greeted with boos. Protesters have called on Katehi to resign after Friday's incident. She spoke briefly to the crowd, apologizing in tears, before leaving. Twitter lit up with pictures of students gathering and quotes from speakers. Live streams showed protesters chanting "shame on you" and "our university."

And the UC Davis English Department called on Katehi's "immediate resignation" and the disbanding of UC police.

Katehi called the use of pepper spray as shown in the video "chilling" in her letter to the community Saturday and said it raises many questions about how to handle such a situation. She has formed a task force of faculty, students and staff to review the incident and wants a thorough report within 30 days, university officials said. The university is also reviewing its policy about overnight camping.

The university announced the chief of campus police, Annette Spicuzza, was placed on administrative leave Monday. Two other officers videoed spraying students were also placed on administrative leave Sunday, according to a university release.

"As I have gathered more information about the events that took place on our Quad on Friday, it has become clear to me that this is a necessary step toward restoring trust on our campus," Katehi said in a statement on the UC Davis website.

"I take full responsibility for the events on Friday and am extremely saddened by what occurred," Katehi said. On Sunday the chancellor called on the Yolo County district attorney's office to investigate the Police Department's use of force. The review will be conducted with the Yolo County sheriff's office.

Ten protesters were arrested Friday. The protesters were cited and released on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and failure to disperse.

An incident at UC Berkeley resulted in people at an Occupy gathering, including English professor Robert Hass, a former Poet Laureate, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner being beaten by police wielding batons. That incident is also under review.

UC President Mark Yudof said the recent events “cry out for a system-wide response” and spoke with all 10 UC campus chancellors by phone this afternoon and told them staff will be examining recent use of force on campuses, police protocol and training, and overall policy on peaceful protests, according to a release from his office.

“Recent incidents make clear the time has come to take strong action to recommit to the ideal of peaceful protest,” Yudof said.

Joe Domanick, associated director of the Center on the Media, Crime & Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told KPCC's Patt Morrison that the videos have been shocking, especially given the history of demonstrations within the UC system.

“It’s the Rodney King video of the Occupy movement,” Domanick said. “It’s astounding, the casualness…you see this officer just walking down the line of these peaceful protesters locked in passive resistance positions spraying them over and over again like he was applying insect repellant to rose bushes or something.”

UC Berkeley junior Emma Esrock said videos of police using batons to beat peaceful protesters were all over her social media accounts. A large Occupy rally last week was in response to the brutality and most professors have been discussing the gatherings in class. She said emotions on campus have been very mixed as students leave for Winter break. Campus police also shot a man brandishing a weapon on campus last week in an incident unrelated to the protests.

"There are so many things going wrong with the public school system involving student safety that have made me wonder what is UC Berkeley's policy on protecting students if police are the ones inflicting the most harm," Esrock said. "...It’s a very unsettling feeling knowing that people are being hurt for no reason."