SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California university has paid consultants at least $175,000 to counteract the effects of negative Internet posts about the school and its chancellor after campus police sparked outrage in 2011 by pepper-spraying student protesters, the Sacramento Bee reported on Wednesday.
The incident led the University of California, Davis, to replace its police chief and briefly thrust the campus near the state capital, Sacramento, to the forefront of national anti-Wall Street demonstrations.
UC Davis released the documents to the newspaper in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The Bee published the contracts - awarded to Nevins & Associates and IDMLOCO - online.
The campaigns aimed to “expedite the eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google” and “achieve a reasonable balance of positive natural search results” for the school and Chancellor Linda Katehi, the documents showed.
Representatives for the school could not be immediately reached for comment. UC Davis spokeswoman Dana Topousis told the Bee: “We have worked to ensure that the reputation of the university, which the chancellor leads, is fairly portrayed.”
The two consulting firms could not be immediately reached.
Video of the confrontation, which showed seated student protesters being pepper-sprayed by campus police, was replayed widely on television and on the Internet and angered faculty and activists.
The incident came to symbolize law enforcement aggression against anti-Wall Street protesters, and school officials agreed in September 2012 to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit filed over the actions.
A former campus policeman, Lieutenant John Pike, was awarded $38,000 in 2013 after filing a worker’s compensation claim citing unspecified psychiatric and nervous system damage he said he suffered from the incident.
A report on the incident found that university officials and UC Davis police used poor judgment and excessive force in the confrontation.
The Sacramento Bee reported the school signed a six-month contract with Nevins in 2013 at $15,000 a month, and awarded IDMLOCO an $82,500 contract in June 2014. IDMLOCO won two more contracts in 2015, the newspaper said.
The newspaper also said the budget for the school’s strategic communications office nearly doubled to $5.47 million by 2015 after Katehi became chancellor in 2009.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Peter Cooney