The University of California will pay damages of $30,000 to each of the 21 UC Davis students and alumni who were pepper-sprayed by campus police during an otherwise peaceful protest 10 months ago, the university system announced Wednesday.
The agreement, which must still be approved in federal court, also calls for UC to pay a total of $250,000 to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. It also sets aside a maximum of $100,000 to pay up to $20,000 to any other individuals who join the class-action lawsuit by proving they were either arrested or directly pepper-sprayed, a university statement said.
A video released online, showing an officer spraying seated students directly in their faces at close range during a Nov. 18 Occupy rally, triggered national outrage.
The preliminary settlement, which was approved by the UC regents in a closed-door meeting this month, will be paid through the UC’s self-insurance program, which officials said has about $600 million in reserves.
The settlement also calls for UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi to write a formal apology to each of the students and alumni who were pepper-sprayed or arrested.
The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
Fatima Sbeih, 22, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who was pepper-sprayed, said the incident created a divide between students and campus police that still exists and needs to be bridged. Students gathered that day to demonstrate peacefully, yet were met with violence, Sbeih said.
“In the end, they were the ones who used force and violence against us,” she said. “They were the ones who were not peaceful.”
The settlement shows that universities can be held responsible for how they treat demonstrators, Sbeih said.
“It’s a lesson for other UCs and universities across the nation to really think critically and not make rash decisions when dealing with protesters because they will be held accountable for it,” she said.
Another protester, Ian Lee, who is entering his sophomore year at the school, said he participated in the demonstrations because of the “privatization of the university” and rising tuition costs. But the pepper spray incident “felt like the university silenced me,” he said.
David Buscho, 23, of San Rafael, said although attention has been paid to the dollar amount the UC system must pay, it’s more important for universities to learn from the incident.
Buscho, who recently graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering, plans on donating the $30,000 he is likely to be awarded.
“I’m much more interested in the policy changes than the money,” he said. “It would feel wrong to have personal gain from the suit.”
A UC report, released in final form this month, urged administrators to use mediation instead of confrontation in most civil disobedience cases, although it said pepper spray might remain a necessary tool of last resort.
In April, a UC task force headed by former state Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso found that UC Davis police had violated policy and that campus administrators mishandled the protest.
Lt. John Pike, the officer who sprayed protesters, no longer works for the department, a UC spokesman said.