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UC to pay settlement in Davis pepper spray case

UC leaders agree to pay settlement to 21 UC Davis students and alumni who sued over campus officers' use of pepper spray during a November 2011 protest.

September 13, 2012|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • A UC Davis officer pepper-sprays Occupy protesters in November.
A UC Davis officer pepper-sprays Occupy protesters in November. (Wayne Tilcock, Associated…)

SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California will pay damages to the UC Davis students and alumni who were pepper sprayed by campus police during an otherwise peaceful protest 10 months ago, officials said Thursday.

The UC regents, in a closed-door meeting, approved the proposed settlement payment to 21 UC Davis students and alumni who sued the university and contended their civil rights were violated in the widely criticized pepper spray incident.

However, both UC officials and the ACLU of Northern California, which is representing the students in the lawsuit, refused to divulge settlement details, saying the rules of the agreement talks require a federal judge to review the matter before it can be made public. That may happen within a few days, they said.

Jonathan Stein, the UC student regent, said the settlement was warranted. "We did an injustice to our students that day at Davis, and some amount of recompense is appropriate. More importantly, it's time for us as an institution to publicly acknowledge that's not the way we should treat our students; we were wrong, and we are moving forward," he said.

UC Regent Leslie Tang Schilling said the regents decided to settle the case because UC needs to get past the pepper spray controversy and focus on the many pressing budgetary issues facing the 10-campus system. "It was a really unfortunate incident," she said of the UC Davis police action on Nov. 18.

Video of the incident went viral. It showed an officer spraying seated students directly in their faces at close range during an Occupy rally. And UC's own investigations and a shakeup at the UC Davis police force put the university in a weak position to argue against the students' lawsuit.

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 bungled the handling of that campus protest.

In May, a separate draft report about campus responses to civil disobedience across UC urged administrators to use mediation instead of confrontation in most cases, although it said pepper spray might remain a necessary tool of last resort. A final version of that report, by UC Berkeley law school Dean Christopher Edley and UC general counsel Charles Robinson, was released Thursday with no major policy changes.

Additionally, Lynn Tierney, the UC system's associate vice president for communications, was appointed to a one-year position to implement the report and help train campus leaders and police in more peaceful responses to protests. In the past, Tierney has worked for police and public safety agencies.

The funds for the settlement will come from UC's self-insurance program, which officials said has about $600 million in reserves.

In other matters, the regents approved plans for a UCLA campus conference center and 250-room hotel, despite critics' contentions that it would be detrimental to hotels in the Westwood area.

Also, the regents authorized large performance bonuses to three executives whose employment agreements call for the annual awards if they meet financial and other goals. All three will receive the same total compensation as they did last year.

John Stobo, senior vice president for health sciences and services, who oversees UC hospitals, is to receive a $130,500 incentive award, bringing his overall annual pay to $710,500. Marie Berggren, vice president for investments and acting treasurer, is to get a $744,950 award, raising her total to $1.2 million. And Melvin Stanton, associate chief investment officer, will receive a $331,348 bonus for a total salary of $638,148.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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