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UC Davis students sue over Occupy protest pepper spraying by campus police

Occupy Pepper Spray

Wayne Tilcock / AP

File: In this Nov. 18, 2011 file photo, University of California, Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters while blocking their exit from the school's quad in Davis, Calif.

Students pepper-sprayed while sitting peacefully during a University of California, Davis protest last fall sued school officials Wednesday. They claim that campus police officers weren't trained on how to handle demonstrations properly.

Nineteen students and alumni represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit against UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and other campus administrators in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.

"This was a shocking and blatantly illegal use of force on peaceful student protestors," said ACLU attorney Linda Lye. "The students [...] have come together to file this lawsuit to get to the bottom of why the university reacted in this totally inappropriate way."

The legal action is the latest fallout from the Nov. 18 incident, when campus police doused pepper-spray on sitting protesters who had set up an Occupy camp and ignored orders to disperse. Widely viewed online videos of the incident generated national outrage and calls for the chancellor's resignation.

The lawsuit claims the police action violated the protesters' constitutional rights, and that the university failed to properly train and supervise officers on how to handle campus demonstrations. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages and campus policies to prevent similar responses to non-violent protests.

David Buscho, a UC Davis mechanical engineering student who is among the plaintiffs, said he felt searing pain and had trouble breathing after being pepper-sprayed in the face.

"This was my first demonstration," Buscho said in a statement. "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."

UC Davis officials declined to comment because they had not seen the lawsuit, said campus spokesman Barry Shiller.

A task force led by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, a professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Law, is investigating the pepper-spray incident. It is expected to release a report in early March detailing its findings and recommendations to prevent similar incidents.

UC President Mark Yudof has ordered a separate investigation into how police should handle student protests at all 10 UC campuses. That report is also expected next month.

On Friday, the UC Davis Academic Senate rejected a motion to express of no-confidence in Chancellor Katehi's leadership because of her handling of the Occupy demonstrations.

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