University of California offers $30,000 each to pepper-sprayed students
POSTED: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 1:30pm
UPDATED: Thursday, September 27, 2012 - 1:34pm
CALIFORNIA (CNN) — The University of California is offering to pay $30,000 to each of 21 plaintiffs who were pepper-sprayed by a police officer on the Davis campus last year, according to a proposed settlement of in a class-action lawsuit announced Wednesday.
A federal court hasn't yet approved the preliminary settlement, a statement from the university president's office said.
The state's higher education system would also pay a total of $250,000 to the plaintiffs' attorneys and would set aside $100,000 to pay up to $20,000 each to any individual who joins the class-action suit and can prove he was pepper-sprayed or arrested during incident in November, the university said.
The money would come from the school system's general liability risk program, a self-insured fund, the president's office said.
The campus police officer who pepper-sprayed the protesters seated at an Occupy encampment was no longer working at the school as of late July, a university spokeswoman said this past summer.
She declined to specify whether the officer, Lt. John Pike, quit or was let go.
"We can confirm he is no longer employed as of today ... but we cannot confirm anything else because of privacy guidelines," said Claudia Morain, news service director at U.C. Davis.
Video footage of Pike spraying student demonstrators with the irritant at close range went viral, provoking widespread criticism of school authorities and making him a target of Internet ridicule.
The group of about a dozen protesters had sat down on a path with their arms interlocked as police moved in to clear out the Occupy encampment. Officers forcibly removed the demonstrators after they had been sprayed.
The demonstrators were protesting university privatization, tuition increases and treatment of other demonstrators at the University of California at Berkeley, according to the proposed settlement. But the Davis campus police declared the assembly unlawful.
The plaintiffs alleged their civil rights were violated by being subjected to unlawful arrest and excessive force, according to a copy of settlement papers filed in court.
U.C. Davis placed Pike, a second officer and Campus Police Chief Annette Spicuzza on administrative leave after the incident.
The pepper-spraying was an "objectively unreasonable" use of force by campus police, a 190-page report by a University of California task force said in April.
The report also accused Pike of misusing his now iconic weapon. The bright red pepper-spray canister he brandished to the crowd before discharging was "not an authorized weapon" under campus police guidelines and "is a higher pressure type of pepper spray than what officers normally carry on their utility belts."
It was designed to be used at a distance of at least 6 feet. "And Lt. Pike did not use it correctly," the report found.
The task force also blamed members of the U.C. Davis leadership, citing "systemic and repeated failures" among campus administrators that "put officers in the unfortunate situation in which they found themselves."
It described the campus police command structure as "very dysfunctional," with Spicuzza's lieutenants refusing to follow orders and getting into "heated exchanges" with the chief during the protests.
But Pike was primarily responsible for the "objectively unreasonable decision" to pepper-spray the demonstrators, it concluded.
Pranksters across the Internet have inserted the image of the helmeted policeman into famous paintings, photos and movie scenes, while the hacking collective Anonymous published Pike's home and cell phone numbers online.