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Report faults Santa Monica College cop who pepper sprayed students

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A panel assembled by Santa Monica College found that a campus police officer violated school policy when he used pepper spray to clear a crowd of protesting students last spring.

In a 44-page report released Friday, the independent panel delivered 15 recommendations in the wake of a controversial April 2012 meeting of the SMC board of trustees. The gathering was interrupted by a protest that turned chaotic when Sgt. Jeremiah Williams deployed pepper spray three times into the crowd of approximately 100 people.

"Sergeant Williams’ decision to use his spray failed to comply with this policy in several ways," wrote the panel, citing campus police code. "First, it was not incident to an 'arrest or an attempt to restrain a violent or threatening suspect,'" the five-member panel noted.

"Dispersing a crowd, the reason suggested by Sergeant Williams’ Police Report narrative, is not an approved use," the report stated.

The panel suggested an improved sound system that could better communicate with crowds, the use of the Student Affairs staff instead of the campus police when interacting with protesters, and a review of both the use of police batons and less lethal weapons.

"In general, the use of chemical agents in occupied buildings should not be used because of their impact on bystanders," the report stated, adding that "situations in which chemical agents may be deployed without warning should be explicitly delimited."

SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang, who assembled the panel, agreed with the findings.

"I concur with the Review Panel’s observation that this incident is incompatible with our shared values. By adopting these recommendations, Santa Monica College will strengthen its commitment to values of mutual respect and collegial communication," he wrote in a statement posted to the campus's web site.

On that April evening, students were protesting the popular community college's controversial plan to offer about 50 courses priced at $180 to $200 a unit, which is approximately five times the price of a typical SMC unit. The idea was to offset the effects of severe cuts to state funding and heavy demand, but protestors denounced it as unfair to less-affluent students.

Protesters were also demanding that the meeting be held in a larger room that could better accommodate the large audience.

After some pushing and shoving, Sgt. Williams used the pepper spray, affecting approximately 30 people, including a 4-year-old child and a U.S. Senate candidate. Three people were rushed to the hospital at the expense of the college.

Sgt. Williams resigned in October.

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