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University of California to pay US$1m over pepper spray at 'Occupy' protest

University of California to pay damages to 21 demontsrators who were pepper-sprayed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2012, 3:52am
 

The University of California will pay damages of US$30,000 to each of the 21 students and alumni who were pepper-sprayed by campus police during an otherwise peaceful protest 10 months ago, the university system announced.

The agreement, which must still be approved in federal court, also calls for UC to pay a total of US$250,000 to the plaintiffs' lawyers. It also sets aside a maximum of US$100,000 to pay up to US$20,000 to any other individuals who join the class-action lawsuit by proving they were either arrested or directly pepper-sprayed.

Video released online shows an officer spraying seated students directly in their faces at close range during a November 18 Occupy rally at the UC Davis campus.

The preliminary settlement, which was approved by the UC regents in a closed-door meeting earlier this month, will be paid through the UC's self-insurance programme, which officials said had about US$600 million in reserves. The settlement calls for UC Davis chancellor Dr Linda Katehi to write a formal apology to each of the students and alumni who were pepper-sprayed or arrested.

The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. Fatima Sbeih, 22, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who was pepper-sprayed, said the incident had created a divide between students and campus police that still existed and needed to be bridged. Students gathered that day to demonstrate peacefully, yet were met with violence, Sbeih said. "In the end, they were the ones who used force and violence against us," she said. "They were the ones who were not peaceful."

The settlement showed universities could be held responsible for how they treated demonstrators, Sbeih said.

"It's a lesson for other universities across the nation to really think critically and not make rash decisions when dealing with protesters because they will be held accountable for it."

In April, a UC task force headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso found that UC Davis police had violated policy and that campus administrators mishandled the protest.

Lieutenant John Pike, the officer who sprayed protesters, no longer worked for the department, a UC spokesman said.

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