Almost a year after 21 students and alumni were pepper sprayed by campus police during a demonstration at the University of California at Davis,, the school has finally agreed to offer compensation.
The undisclosed payout, agreed to on Thursday, will strike a further financial blow to the school, which the Sacramento Bee estimates has already spent $1 million in legal, investigative and other fees on the case — and, according to the Davis Enterprise, at least $100,000 on a crisis communications consultant to help deal with the incident’s fallout.
CBS reports that lawyers for both the University and the plaintiffs have so far refused to discuss the terms of the settlement, as it still awaits the approval of a federal judge, before it can go ahead.
Nevertheless, Jonathan Stein, University’s student regent, has be quoted as saying:
“We did an injustice to our students that day at Davis, and some amount of recompense is appropriate. More importantly, it’s time for us as an institution to publicly acknowledge that’s not the way we should treat our students; we were wrong, and we are moving forward.”
On Nov. 18, 2011, U.C. Davis police attempted to evict a group of demonstrators who had set up tents on the grounds of the campus. The students were protesting tuition fee rises and budget cuts and appeared to have links to the global Occupy movement. When a group of protesters sat on the ground and refused to move, according to a New York Times article from Nov. 20, the police moved in and began pepper-spraying them. The incident was caught on video — as were the chants of “Shame on you” from witnesses — and made headlines around the world. The image of police in riot gear casually spraying seated protesters in the face elicited outrage and became an instant source of online ridicule.
According to the Los Angeles Times, two separate reports have concluded that the university violated its own policy and mishandled the protest, one by a University of California force led by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso in April, and the latest released just last week by Christopher Edley, dean of the law school at U.C. Berkeley, and Charles Robinson the University of California’s general counsel. The second report advises the University to opt for mediation over confrontation in the future, though condones the use of pepper spray as a last resort.
A lawsuit against the school was initially filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California in February, alleging that school and police department officials ”violated the protestors’ constitutional rights — including the rights of freedom of speech and assembly,” according to a report in the Huffington Post.
U.C. regent Leslie Tang Schilling told the Los Angeles Times that the school’s board of regents decided to settle the case so that the University could move past the controversy and instead prioritize its budgetary issues. She said the incident was “really unfortunate.”