UC Davis Pepper Spray Lawsuit
On November 18, 2011, during an Occupy Movement demonstration at the University of California, Davis, campus protesters were sprayed down with pepper spray by university police officers.
This is right in the height of the Occupy Movement that was sweeping across the United States (probably most famously with the Occupy Wall Street movement that focus the attention of the US – and the world – on New York City and the movement itself for weeks), and the images of university police officers spraying the peaceful demonstrators became a global sensation.
The video of UC Davis officer Lieut. John Pike sprang down the demonstrators was viewed by millions and millions of people overnight. Lieut. Pike reported that he was ordered to disperse the crowd, though he would be relieved of his duties and subsequently fired by the university – even after an investigation into the incident reported that he should face disciplinary action but not lose his job or position on the police force.
This event triggered massive protests regarding the use of pepper spray on campus, with the Chancellor of the University apologizing to students and reporting that she had told the police that there were standing orders NOT to use any force and NOT to make any arrests.
Public debates regarding the “militarization” of the university police, the appropriate usage and deployment of pepper spray, and the validity of the Occupy Movement ratcheted up in the aftermath of this event and it acted as a spark for conversations that happened in millions of homes throughout the US as well as globally.
But conversations weren’t the only thing that were sparked by this incident.
The police officer that was relieved of duty and fired from the University Police Department immediately filed a lawsuit against the university, as did attorneys for 21 University students and alumni that had been impacted by the pepper spraying activity itself.
Lieut. John Pike received $38,000 in workers compensation from the University as a direct result of his lawsuit, while a $1 million award was handed out to the class-action lawsuit victims – with $30,000 passed on to each individual student that was pepper sprayed as part of the settlement.
Unbelievably, during the investigation that was inevitably triggered by both lawsuits – as well as the increased press and pressure from the local community as well as the nation in general – investigators discovered that the university had spent more than $175,000 to outside consultants to “clean up the school’s online reputation” and bury the pictures and documents online.
An in-depth investigation by the Sacramento Bee discovered that the university had taken money from the “communications department” and diverted it into these efforts in hopes of scrubbing the evidence of this confrontation and the subsequent lawsuits from the web in its entirety.
The university has defended their decision to move forward with this kind of approach. A quick search on Google for “UC Davis Pepper Spraying Incident” shows news articles, YouTube videos, and in-depth interviews and reporting about all the major principle issues and individuals associated with the incident.
It’s impossible to imagine why a major university like this would assume that they would be able to banish something quite as embarrassing as this from the web once and for all, or even temporally.