Nineteen students and former students at UC Davis have filed a federal lawsuit charging the university’s chancellor, chief of police, and other officials of violating their civil rights in the November 18 pepper spray incident that made headlines around the world.
The lawsuit argues that “campus policies and practices” that led to the incident “offend both the state and federal constitutional guarantees of the rights to free speech and assembly.”
Five of those named in the suit are Davis administrators, including Chancellor Linda Katehi and Chief of Police Annette Spicuzza. The suit alleges that the five promulgated an unlawful dispersal order and failed in their duty to properly train the campus police in handling peaceful protests. It further alleges that the five were negligent in hiring and retaining campus police officer John Pike, who was “unqualified” for his job.
The nineteen plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages and an injunction barring similar responses to student protest in the future.
Thirteen of the plaintiffs say they were pepper sprayed on November 18 “without legal cause or justification.” Four say they were physically mistreated in other ways. Eight say they were wrongfully arrested, and one says he was denied medical assistance while in custody.
Some highlights of today’s court filing:
- Seventeen of the nineteen plaintiffs in the case were UC Davis students last November. The other two were recent graduates, one of whom was teaching classes at Davis at the time. (The other was visiting the campus.)
- Eight of the ten protesters arrested at Davis on November 18 are parties to the lawsuit.
- The plaintiffs claim that the pepper spray used on the students carries a manufacturer’s recommendation that it be used from a distance of at least six feet. The lawsuit estimates that the students were sprayed from a distance of 1-2 feet.
- The suit alleges that “neither the University nor the police provided adequate medical attention on the scene to any of the students who had been sprayed.” It further claims that one defendant was taken to a hospital in an ambulance for treatment of the effects of the spray.
- Fifty-one campus police officers are cited in the suit, of whom all but John Pike are unnamed.
- The lawsuit alleges violations of the plaintiffs’ First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as their rights to free speech and assembly, medical care when in police custody, and freedom from arrest without probable cause, under California law.
Update | Key quote: “In prior years, Defendants … as well as their predecessors in their positions, permitted assemblies, demonstrations and protests on campus which included the erection of structures such as tents and domes, when the message and speakers were less controversial. In contrast, Defendants and each of them took the actions to disperse the lawful assembly on November 18, and to pepper spray and arrest students because of the demonstration’s message and who was delivering it.”
Also: “Certain plaintiffs were targeted by the police for forcible arrests based on their past political activism and associations at the University.”
And this: “The pepper spraying and arrest of peacefully assembled students on their college campus was so clearly in violation of established state and federal law that no inference other than that the Defendants acted maliciously with intent to injure and to deprive plaintiffs of their constitutional rights can be drawn.”
Second Update | The ACLU of Northern California is assisting with the lawsuit. Their press release can be found here.