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Bratton to lead investigation of UC Davis pepper-spraying

The former LAPD chief, who now heads a security consulting firm, will lead an independent investigation of the incident in which nonviolent protesters were sprayed by campus police.

November 23, 2011|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi speaks with students at the spot where students were pepper-sprayed last week.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi speaks with students at the spot where… (Bryan Patrick / Sacramento…)

Former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton will head a University of California-sponsored investigation into the controversial pepper-spraying of student protesters last week at UC Davis, university officials announced Tuesday.

Bratton is to lead an independent review and report his findings within a month, UC President Mark G. Yudof said. Bratton is chairman of the New York-based Kroll security consulting firm, which is being hired by UC for a fee that is still under negotiation, officials said.

The Friday incident, in which UC Davis police sprayed the chemical irritant in the faces of nonviolent, seated protesters, has sparked nationwide outrage.

In a telephone interview from New York, Bratton said he hoped to meet Yudof's request for "an outside, independent investigation and try to ascertain exactly what happened." He said his experiences in Los Angeles, where he was chief for seven years until 2009, provided "no shortage of controversial incidents."

He held up as a model investigation the Los Angeles Police Department's inquiry into a 2007 May Day confrontation at MacArthur Park in which police officers were caught on videotape as they wielded batons and fired rubber bullets to disperse a mostly peaceful crowd, after a small group of protesters confronted police. Dozens of demonstrators and journalists were injured. A series of LAPD disciplinary steps resulted.

"I'm certainly not proud of the event, but I am proud of the report," Bratton said. "I am looking for a similar report that will give a truthful and objective, candid account of the events" at UC Davis, he added. Bratton said he had seen video of the pepper-spraying but declined to comment on it.

Also on Tuesday, Yudof appointed UC General Counsel Charles Robinson and UC Berkeley law school Dean Christopher Edley Jr. to lead an examination of police policies in handling student protests at all 10 UC campuses. That will include campus visits and talks with students, faculty and experts.

"We are moving forward to identify what needs to be done to ensure the safety of students and others who engage in nonviolent protests on UC campuses," Yudof said in a statement.

He said he was acting on a request from UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and state Assembly Speaker John. A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) for an outside investigation. The Bratton panel will replace plans for a campus review of the incident. The Yolo County district attorney and Sheriff's Department also are expected to conduct a joint review.

Bratton said the connection with UC was made through former Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss, who now heads Kroll's Los Angeles office and who was in Oakland on Tuesday to meet with UC administrators.

Claudia Magana, president of the systemwide UC Student Assn., called the Bratton hiring and other recent UC responses to the incident "steps in the right direction." But she said many students will remain leery until they see how campus police treat future protests, including those expected at Monday's UC regents meeting, which will be held by teleconference from UCLA, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Pérez scheduled a Dec. 14 legislative hearing in Sacramento to look into UC police actions against student protesters. Yudof and Katehi are expected to be invited to testify.

At the Davis campus, Katehi visited the renewed Occupy Davis tent city Tuesday and was scheduled to address students at a campus town hall meeting Tuesday night. Over the last few days, as some students and faculty called for her resignation, she has apologized repeatedly for the incident and put the campus police chief and two officers involved in the spraying on administrative leave.

About 80 tents were put up on the campus quad between Monday night and Tuesday; officials said there were no plans to evict the campers.

UC Davis officials said the campus also has decided to pay the immediate medical bills of students who were pepper-sprayed and has asked the district attorney to drop misdemeanor charges against 10 people, including nine students, arrested in last week's protest.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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