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Chancellor of University apologizes for pepper-spraying

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:25 PM EST, Mon November 21, 2011
  • NEW: Chancellor apologizes to a student rally
  • The university will convene a task force to review the incident Monday
  • The school has placed the police chief and two officers on administrative leave
  • Video of police pepper-spraying demonstrators sparks widespread criticism

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(CNN) -- The chancellor of the University of California Davis expressed her regrets Monday before a crowd of thousands over the use of pepper spray against Occupy Davis protesters by police last week.

"I am here to apologize," were the first words Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said through a microphone after climbing onto a small stage erected on the university's "quad" for Occupy supporters. "I really feel horrible for what happened on Friday."

Video of police pepper-spraying nonviolent demonstrators at a sitting protest Friday on the UC Davis campus has sparked widespread criticism, including calls for Katehi's resignation.

"If you think you don't want to be students in a university like we had on Friday," Katehi said, "I'm just telling you I don't want to be the chancellor of the university we had on Friday."

The statement triggered cries of "Resign!" from the crowd.

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The university said it has placed two police officers and the police chief on administrative leave in the wake of the incident, while officials investigate officers' use of pepper spray against protesters.

Katehi saw the measure as "a necessary step toward restoring trust on our campus," she said.

The chancellor was scheduled to create a task force Monday to review the incident and issue recommendations within 30 days.

In a written statement Sunday, Katehi said she shared the "outrage" of students and was "deeply saddened" by the use of the chemical irritant by campus police.

"I am deeply saddened that this happened on our campus, and as chancellor, I take full responsibility for the incident," she said. "However, I pledge to take the actions needed to ensure that this does not happen again."

Katehi made reference to her own past as a student protester when addressing the crowd of Monday.

"There is a plaque out there that speaks about 17th of November of 1973, and I was there, and I don't want to forget that," she said in an apparent reference to a student uprising in Greece against the military junta that ruled when she attended university there.

Time: Watch video of police pepper-spraying and arresting students

A group of about a dozen protesters sat on a path with their arms interlocked as police moved in to clear out a protest encampment affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement Friday. Most of the protesters had their heads down as a campus police officer walked down the line, spraying them in their faces in a sweeping motion.

"I was shocked," Sophia Kamran, one of the protesters subjected to the spray, said Saturday. "When students are sitting on the ground and no way of moving to be violent, being totally peaceful, I don't understand the use of pepper spray against them."

The school said 10 protesters arrested were given misdemeanor citations for unlawful assembly and failure to disperse. Eleven were treated for the effects of pepper spray, which burns the eyes and nose, causing coughing, gagging and shortness of breath.

The Davis Faculty Association, citing incidents at other campuses, demanded "that the chancellors of the University of California cease using police violence to repress nonviolent political protests."

It called for greater attention to cuts in state funding to education and rising tuition. Its board demanded Katehi resign, saying she exhibited "gross failure of leadership."

Saturday, Katehi called the officers' actions "chilling" and said the video "raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this." But she refused calls from faculty members and others for her to step down, saying she did not violate campus policies.

CNN's Kara Devlin contributed this report.

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