By Laird Harrison
DAVIS, California (Reuters) - University of California officials and campus police showed poor judgment and used excessive force in the pepper-spraying of peacefully protesting students allied with the Occupy Wall Street movement last fall, an investigative panel found on Wednesday.
A scathing, 190-page report on the UC Davis confrontation, which was captured on video and widely replayed on television and the Internet, was the work of a task force headed by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.
"Our overriding conclusion can be stated briefly and explicitly," wrote Reynoso and his co-authors. "The pepper-spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented."
The report, delayed for weeks by a lawsuit from the university police union, criticized officers for using pepper spray to break up a peaceful demonstration and accused school administrators of bungling decisions at nearly every point leading up to the incident.
The clash led to suspensions of the campus police chief and two officers, and thrust the normally quiet, conservative and mostly apolitical UC Davis campus, located near the state capital Sacramento, to the forefront of anti-Wall Street "Occupy" protests nationwide.
The report faulted UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and other administrators for ordering police to remove tents the protesters had set up on campus in an imitation of Occupy demonstrations around the country.
Katehi and her advisers failed to take time to explore other alternatives, the report said, suggesting that the university could have allowed the tents to remain while using police to enforce the health and safety regulations they had cited as their primary concerns.
The panel also singled out police department commanders, including Lieutenant John Pike, who was seen in video footage dousing a cluster of protesters at close range as he walked back and forth in front of them. The report said the pepper spray he used was in a larger can with a more forceful nozzle than the variety officially approved for the police department
The task force concluded its work weeks ago, but attorneys representing the university police sued to block it on the grounds that it would violate the confidentiality of officers' personnel records.
Pike received thousands of threatening emails and phone calls after he was identified as one of the officers wielding a spray bottle, his lawyers said.
Under a settlement between UC and the union, the task force issued the report with names of several officers redacted. But Pike and UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza were named because they already had been publicly identified.
Some students who were pepper-sprayed have filed a separate lawsuit alleging that their civil rights were violated.
(Reporting by Laird Harrison; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston; Desking by Cynthia Osterman)