College students pepper-sprayed after protesting fees

POSTED: Friday, April 6, 2012 - 10:30pm

UPDATED: Friday, April 6, 2012 - 10:34pm

At least one campus police officer pepper-sprayed a crowd protesting in California outside a board of trustees meeting at Santa Monica College Tuesday night, according to witnesses.

About 30 people were treated for pepper spray, and two were transported to the hospital.

Roughly 200 students were involved in the demonstration, and 12 were allowed in the boardroom.

No arrests were made.

Christine Deal, a student, said police roughly handled many of the students in the front lines of the crowd.

Deal, whose story was supported by at least two other students, said a police officer grabbed her by the neck during the clash.

"The crowd was getting out of hand," said college spokesman Bruce Smith. "There was a safety issue. A couple of students had sort of broken into the boardroom. It was a judgment call and a question of safety."

Santa Monica police were not immediately available for comment.

The students were hoping to get into the trustee’s meeting because they were slated to discuss a controversial tiered payment program, which has drawn the ire of students and professors claiming that the plan would make highly demanded summer classes like, English and math, staggeringly expensive.

Access to meeting was a point of contention among demonstrators, who said they requested last month that the trustees gather in a larger room to accommodate the crowd.

Campus police tried to limit the number of students inside the board room to about a dozen, Santa Monica College counselor Patty Del Valle told City News Service.

The program in question would cost $180 per unit during the summer session, up from the usual $46 per unit.

That means a high-demand 3-unit course would run about $540, more than most students pay for an entire semester in the fall or spring.

Demonstrators moved their protest to the Santa Monica College police department, where a few dozen people gathered outside the building.

Officials said medical bills will be reimbursed for those who required medical attention.

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