On Wednesday, nineteen current and former UC Davis students filed a federal lawsuit against UC Davis over the University’s treatment of protesters during a Nov. 18, 2011 demonstration in which campus police were caught on video dousing seated protesters with pepper spray.
The students were protesting tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses. Video footage of the 2011 incident show peaceful students sitting down and then getting pepper sprayed by the two officers from a very close proximity—eleven of them were treated on site for injuries.
“The lawsuit seeks to determine why the University violated the demonstrators’ state and federal constitutional rights and seeks to result in better policies that will prevent repetition of such response to a non-violent protest,” according to a statement made by the ACLU of Northern California, who are representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit charges that Administration officials and the campus police department failed to properly train and supervise officers, resulting in series of constitutional violations against the demonstrators.
“This was my first demonstration. So many of my friends can barely make ends meet and then another tuition hike was proposed. We had no idea there would be police in riot gear or that we would be pepper-sprayed because we were making our voices heard,” said David Buscho, one of the plaintiffs. Buscho, a Mechanical Engineering student, was in searing pain and had trouble breathing after being pepper-sprayed directly in the face.
Documents subsequently received from the University of California indicate that the pepper spray used was military grade and, based on manufacturer instructions should be used from a minimum of six feet away - much farther than the close range at which the students were sprayed.
“Using military-grade pepper spray and police violence against non-violent student protesters violates the constitution, and it’s just wrong,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “When the cost of speech is a shot of blinding, burning pepper spray in the face, speech is not free.”