(Reuters) - Two University of California, Davis police officers have been placed on administrative leave while the school investigates the apparent use by campus police of pepper spray against seated student protesters, the university said Sunday.
Video footage of a policeman in riot gear using pepper spray on a group of roughly a dozen student protesters at close range in the university’s quad area posted on YouTube spread quickly over the Internet, sparking outrage among some university faculty members.
The officers will be paid while on leave, university spokeswoman Claudia Morain said. She did not identify them.
In a public statement Saturday, UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi wrote that the use of pepper spray as shown on the video “is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this.”
Student protesters at Davis had set up an encampment in the university’s quad area earlier this month as part of the nationwide Occupy movement demonstrations against economic inequality and excesses of the financial system.
Their demonstrations, which had been endorsed by a faculty association, included protests against tuition increases and what they viewed as police brutality on University of California campuses in response to recent protests.
The students had set up about 25 tents in a quad area, but they had been asked not to stay overnight and were told they would not be able to stay during the weekend due to a lack of university resources, Katehi said.
Some protesters took their tents down voluntarily while others stayed. The pepper spray incident appeared to take place on Friday afternoon, when campus police moved in to forcibly evict the protesters.
Katehi said she was “saddened” by the manner in which protesters were removed and on Saturday announced a task force of faculty, students and staff to investigate the incident.
She said she had also instructed the school to reevaluate whether university policy on encampments offered students sufficient “flexibility to express themselves.”
The move announcing the task force came after Katehi came under criticism from members of her own faculty.
Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by David Bailey