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Police, students faulted in Santa Monica College melee

Officers didn't order protesters to disperse before using pepper spray, while students didn't understand limits of free speech rights, report says.

January 19, 2013|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times

A protest that led to a pepper-spraying incident outside a Santa Monica College Board of Trustees meeting in April was exacerbated by inadequate planning by campus police and "inappropriate" pushing and grabbing by some student demonstrators, according to an independent review released Friday.

The report found that although most campus officers acted with restraint, the use of pepper spray and a raised baton by one did not comply with policy.

The melee unfolded at the April 3 meeting after about 100 students gathered to protest a proposed two-tier fee plan that would have charged more for high-demand courses. When police attempted to limit the number of people in the board room, the crowd tried to push its way in.

One officer deployed pepper spray. At least two students were taken to a hospital and dozens were treated for minor injuries.

The report noted that no order for the crowd to disperse was given before the pepper spray was used.

Some students engaged in unacceptable behavior, such as shoving police and illegally inciting others to disrupt the meeting. Many did not appear to understand the limits of their free speech rights, the report concluded: "Such fundamental misunderstandings ... is an educational issue within the campus context."

The report listed 13 recommendations, including better planning before large demonstrations and increased training of campus police.

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