DAVIS, CALIFORNIA – Under pressure to resign, the chancellor of the University of California, Davis, established a task force Saturday to look into an incident where a police officer sprayed seated protesters with pepper spray at point blank range.
Linda Katehi told CNN’s Don Lemon that she considered the police action on Friday “unacceptable,” but stressed she has no plans to step down.
“We really want to look into this very carefully and take action … make sure that it will never happen again on our campus,” she said.
Katehi said the task force made of faculty, students and staff will review the events and provide a report within 90 days.
“This report will help inform our policies and processes within the university administration and the Police Department to help us avoid similar outcomes in the future,” she said.
The campus protests were affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
One of the protesters hit by the spray told CNN’s Lemon that she was still feeling some after-effects Saturday evening.
“I was shocked,” said Sophia Kamran. “When students are sitting on the ground and no way of moving to be violent, being totally peaceful, I don’t understand the use of pepper spray against them.”
A campus police officer, in a sweeping motion, sprayed protesters point blank on Friday before other officers moved in.
Eleven people were treated on site for effects of the yellow spray. Two of them were sent to the hospital, university officials said.
The incident set off a flood of comments on the school’s Facebook page, most of them critical of police and the administration.
In response, Katehi first released a statement, then held a news conference Saturday.
“Yesterday was not a day that would make anyone on our campus proud,” Katehi said in her statement.
At the news conference, she called the use of pepper spray “chilling.”
“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,” she said.
But Katehi refused calls from faculty members and others for her to step down, saying she did not violate campus policies.
The Davis Faculty Association, citing incidents at other campuses, demanded “that the chancellors of the University of California cease using police violence to repress nonviolent political protests.”
It called for greater attention to cuts in state funding to education and rising tuition. Its board demanded Katehi resign, saying she exhibited “gross failure of leadership.”
Saturday evening, as Katehi left campus, dozens of students sat cross-legged and with their arms linked in a silent protest.
A reporter asked Katehi, “Do you still feel threatened by the students?”
“No,” she replied. “No.”
Time: Watch video of police pepper-spraying and arresting students
UC Davis spokeswoman Claudia Morain told CNN that 25 tents were in place Friday afternoon — despite fliers explaining the campus prohibits overnight camping. It does so for security and health reasons, Katehi said.
After written and verbal warnings, officers reminded the protesters they would be subject to arrest if they did not move their tents from the quad, Morain said. Many protesters did decide to remove their tents and equipment, officials said.
A group of about a dozen protesters sat on a path with their arms interlocked as police moved in to remove additional tents. Most of the protesters had their heads down.
At one point, protesters encircled the officers and blocked them from leaving, Morain said.
Cut off from backup, the officers determined the situation was not safe and asked people several times to make room, Morain said. One officer used pepper spray when a couple of protesters and some of the 200 bystanders moved in, she added.
A use of force review will “determine whether we made all the right decisions and handled it the way we should have handled it,” Annette Spicuzza, chief of campus police, told reporters.
Critics took issue with the college’s account, saying the seated protesters did not pose a threat to the officers.
“Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students” wrote Nathan Brown, an assistant professor in the college’s English Department, in an open letter to the chancellor.
He said that police then used batons to separate the students, kneeled on their bodies and pushed their heads to the ground.
“When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats,” Brown wrote.
He called on Katehi to resign.
“I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis.”