University of California offers $30,000 each to pepper-sprayed students

A police officer pepper sprayed protesters at an Occupy encampment on the University of California Davis campus last year.

Story highlights

  • University of California would pay $30,000 each to 21 plaintiffs in a class-action suit
  • A federal court has yet to approve the settlement, officials say
  • Davis campus police pepper-sprayed seated student protesters at an Occupy camp
  • A video of the close-range pepper spraying went viral last year

The University of California is offering to pay $30,000 to each of 21 protesters who were pepper-sprayed by a campus policeman last year, according to a proposed out-of-court lawsuit settlement.

If approved by a federal court, the deal could end the suit by demonstrators at an Occupy Movement encampment who were protesting tuition hikes and university privatization. Plaintiffs said police violated their civil rights and a school report called the spraying "objectively unreasonable."

The campus police officer who pepper-sprayed the protesters was no longer working at the school as of late July. The school declined to say whether the officer, Lt. John Pike, quit or was let go.

Video footage of Pike spraying student demonstrators with the irritant at close range went viral, provoking widespread criticism of school authorities and making him a target of Internet ridicule.

Under the pending agreement, which was announced Wednesday, the University of California would also pay $250,000 to plaintiffs' attorneys. It also would set aside a $100,000 fund to pay as much as $20,000 to each individual who joins the class-action suit and can prove he was pepper-sprayed or arrested during the protest.

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The money would come from the school system's general liability risk program, a self-insured fund, the president's office said.

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During the November 2011 protest, about a dozen demonstrators were seated on a path with their arms interlocked as police moved in to clear out members of the Occupy movement who were camped in the area. Officers forcibly removed the demonstrators after they had been sprayed. UC Davis had declared the protest unlawful.

In addition to tuition increases and privatization, the demonstrators were protesting treatment of demonstrators at another campus -- the University of California at Berkeley, according to the proposed settlement.

The plaintiffs alleged their civil rights were violated by being subjected to unlawful arrest and excessive force, the settlement papers said.

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U.C. Davis placed Pike, a second officer and Campus Police Chief Annette Spicuzza on administrative leave after the incident.

In addition to calling the spraying an "objectionably unreasonable" use of force, a UC report on the incident accused Pike of misusing his weapon. The bright red pepper-spray canister the officer brandished before spraying was a higher pressure type and "not an authorized weapon" under campus police guidelines, the report said.

The canister was designed to be used at a distance of at least 6 feet and "Lt. Pike did not use it correctly," the report found.
The report also blamed members of the U.C. Davis leadership, citing "systemic and repeated failures" among campus administrators that "put officers in the unfortunate situation in which they found themselves."

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