Investigations Have Yielded Few Answers So Far in UC Davis Pepper Spray Case

A task force appointed to investigate an infamous case at the University of California at Davis, when a campus police officer evidently used pepper spray on a group of seated, allegedly non-violent student protesters in November 2011, has decided not to release the findings of their investigation yet. The task force has retained a private security company to look into the case. The company has completed its investigation, but the task force has opted to withhold its report until the task force itself completes its own work, which may not be until February or later.

The events of November 18, 2011 are still very much in dispute, regarding whether any students were behaving violently, whether the UC Davis police on the scene faced any danger, and whether arrests or use of force were warranted. The incident has become part of the broader debate about the Occupy Wall Street protest movement that began in New York City and has spread to cities around the world. The Occupy protest in Washington, D.C., while enduring arrests by police, has not had issues of alleged police brutality to the extent of other American cities. The issues presented in California are of interest to anyone who represents the rights of people injured by police misconduct.

What is clear about the UC Davis incident is that a police officer used pepper spray, at point-blank range, on a group of unarmed students seated in a close group on the ground. The case has prompted outrage around the country (towards both police and protesters) and calls for investigations by California lawmakers. It has also prompted questions about the safety and health effects of pepper spray, especially as it has been used by police in these protests.

The administration of UC Davis has formally apologized for the incident, acknowledging that the student protest was non-violent and calling the police action “deplorable and unacceptable.” The university chancellor, Linda Katehi, has claimed that she specifically instructed campus police to dismantle the protesters’ camp peacefully, and not to do it at if the students behaved aggressively. The police officer shown pepper-spraying the students was placed on administrative leave shortly after the incident, and he lives on as an internet meme.

A major question that remains, of course, is the liability of the campus police and the university, should any injured students decide to come forward. The investigation commissioned by the university, if it determines that the police acted without justification, would certainly help civil claims against the university, but it is not a prerequisite. At least one student has already come forward with concerns about health effects. She was recovering from a lung infection on November 18, and her proximity to the pepper spray blast worsened her symptoms. She claims to have learned that this sort of pre-existing condition is a leading cause of pepper-spray fatalities. Fortunately no one died, but damages may still be there.

The Washington, DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people injured due to the negligence of others to recover their just compensation. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Legislator Awarded $50,000 in Suit for Damages Caused by Tight Handcuffs, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 2, 2012
Federal Lawsuit Against ICE Accuses Anne Arundel County Police of Police Brutality During 2008 Immigration Raid in Maryland, Maryland Accident Law Blog, August 11, 2011
$10M Montgomery County Wrongful Death Lawsuit Accuses Police of Excessive Use of Force, Maryland Accident Law Blog, March 29, 2011

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