DAVIS, Calif. – As outrage mounted over police use of pepper spray on nonviolent student demonstrators at the University of California, Davis, the campus’s embattled chancellor apologized for the incident and placed the university’s police chief on administrative leave.
During a tense speech at the normally quiet Central Valley campus’s main quad before more than 1,000 students and faculty members on Monday, Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi tried to quell criticism over the incident, as well as how university officials handled the aftermath.
“I am here to apologize,” an emotional Katehi said, after struggling through the crowd to a small stage where students among the group pepper-sprayed by police had just described their ordeals. “I feel horrible for what happened.”
The chancellor’s appearance drew dueling boos and cries of “let her speak.”
The Friday incident, captured in videos that quickly went viral on the Internet, has triggered nationwide controversy about the forceful response by university police to student protesters. The Occupy Wall Street movement has spilled in recent weeks onto college campuses, combining with student anger over rising tuition and cuts to higher education to produce protests and sit-ins at many schools.
Katehi announced Monday that she had put campus police Chief Annette Spicuzza on administrative leave, an effort to restore peace to the roiling, 32,000-student public university. Two officers involved in the spraying, in which students were hit in the face as they sat quietly, arms linked, were put on paid leave over the weekend.
Katehi has said that she ordered tents removed but had not authorized police to use the chemical spray in the manner shown on the videos. Campus spokesman Andy Fell on Monday declined to comment on who gave that order, saying it would be looked at by investigators.
Katehi ignored calls from the crowd for her resignation. UC leaders, state politicians, the ACLU and national education organizations have decried the incident.