Image: University of California, Davis, student Mike Fetterman is treated for pepper spray
Rich Pedroncelli  /  AP
University of California, Davis student Mike Fetterman, receives a treatment for pepper spray by UC Davis firefighter Nate Potter, after campus police dismantled an Occupy Wall Street encampment on the campus quad on Friday.
msnbc.com
updated 11/19/2011 8:44:20 PM ET 2011-11-20T01:44:20

The chancellor of the University of California, Davis on Saturday afternoon called video images of an officer calmly pepper-spraying a line of student protesters a day earlier "chilling" but said she would not step down.

Linda Katehi, who earlier Saturday said in a letter that she was forming a task force to investigate the incident, told an afternoon news conference that what the video shows is "sad and really very inappropriate."

The events surrounding the protest have been hard on her personally, but she had no plans to resign, she said.

"I do not think that I have violated the policies of the institution. I have worked personally very hard to make this campus a safe campus for all," she said.

A UC-Davis professor called for the chancellor to step down, saying she was to blame for police pepper-spraying students during an Occupy protest on campus.

"You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt. Faculty get hurt," Nathan Brown, an assistant professor in the Department of English, wrote in an open letter to Katehi.

He said she was accountable for "the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest."

Brown was referring to an incident Friday in which UC Davis police arrested 10 protesters and pepper-sprayed about a dozen more while trying to clear an Occupy encampment on campus, according to the Davis Enterprise.

The students who were pepper-sprayed were sitting on the ground, arms linked in solidarity. Brown said several of them had to be treated at the hospital.

"You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds," Brown wrote.

Katehi did not directly respond to Brown's letter. But in a statement Saturday to the UC Davis campus community, she said she will create a task force of faculty, students and staff to look into Friday's incident.

"Yesterday was not a day that would make anyone on our campus proud; indeed the events of the day need to guide us forward as we try to make our campus a better place of inquiry, debate, and even dissent," she wrote.

Story: Occupy protests spread to college campuses

She noted that a group of protesters stayed overnight Thursday despite repeated notices by university staff that their encampment violated university policies and they were told to disperse.

"On Friday morning, the protesters were provided with a letter explaining university policies and reminding them of the opportunities the university provides for expression. Driven by our concern for the safety and health of the students involved in the protest, as well as other students on our campus, I made the decision not to allow encampments on the Quad during the weekend, when the general campus facilities are locked and the university staff is not widely available to provide support."

She said many students followed orders to dismantle their tents, but others chose not to.

Annette Spicuzza, UC Davis police chief, told the Sacramento Bee that police used the pepper spray after they were surrounded. Protesters were warned repeatedly beforehand that force would be used if they didn't move, she said.

"There was no way out of that circle," Spicuzza said. "They were cutting the officers off from their support. It's a very volatile situation."

Said Katehi in the letter: "The events of this intervention have been videotaped and widely distributed. As indicated in various videos, the police used pepper spray against the students who were blocking the way. The use of pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this," the chancellor wrote.

Katehi said the university is committed to free speech and expression while ensuring the safety of all others.

"Through this letter, I express my sadness for the events of past Friday and my commitment to redouble our efforts to improve our campus and the environment for our students," she said.

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Video: Police pepper-spraying of protesters causes outrage

  1. Transcript of: Police pepper-spraying of protesters causes outrage

    LESTER HOLT, co-host: But let's begin, though, with the shocking video from the University of California at Davis there a police officer was recorded pepper spraying a group of protesters. NBC 's Ayman Mohyeldin is live in Los Angeles with more. Ayman , good morning.

    AYMAN MOHYELDIN reporting: Good morning, Lester . You know, whatever your politics may be about the Occupy protest movement, it's a disturbing video that has generated a lot of reaction and raised questions about police tactics being used across the country to break up encampments. It's the viral video that has provoked outrage.

    Group of Protesters: The whole world is watching.

    MOHYELDIN: UC-Davis police pepper spraying a row of students seen here with their arms locked and peacefully seated along a sidewalk, part of the Occupy protests.

    Unidentified Woman: We have a right to be here. This was a peaceful protest.

    MOHYELDIN: Now the Davis Faculty Association is calling on UC chancellor Linda Katehi to resign for authorizing police actions against the student led sit-in.

    Ms. LINDA KATEHI (University of California, Davis Chancellor): And I do understand the unfortunate and very bad really situation that was created for our students.

    MOHYELDIN: The protesters were pushing police back. UC-Davis police chief Annette Spicuzza said protesters were, quote, "cutting the officers off from their support. It's a very volatile situation."

    MOHYELDIN: That incident capped off a week of police crackdowns, including this one of an 84-year-old woman seen here in this photo on seattlepi.com. These latest crackdowns may be signaling how authorities begin to deal with nationwide Occupy protest encampments, but it may just be these students, who by refusing to move, are bringing new life to the movement two months later. Even the university's chancellor has described the video as chilling and has ordered a review of the incident. And police say they acted only after protesters refused their orders and once they realized they were surrounded by students in what could have been a volatile situation. Lester :

    HOLT: All right, Ayman , thanks very much.

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