UC Davis students reach $1 million settlement with UC Davis over pepper-spray incident

Photo: Brian Nguyen/The Aggie

From the ACLU of Northern California, this just in:

Attorneys for 21 UC Davis students and recent alumni have just announced the details of a million-dollar settlement in the federal class-action lawsuit filed against UC Davis over the widely-reported incident in which campus police "repeatedly doused seated, non-violent student demonstrators with military grade pepper spray at close range."

That act violated state and federal constitutional protections, including the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to the lawsuit.

"The UC Regents approved the settlement in a September 13 meeting, and the settlement documents were filed with the court today. A federal court judge must approve the settlement before it is finalized."

Details, from the ACLU announcement:

Terms of the Settlement

The settlement was filed today with the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, for review by a federal judge before it becomes final. The terms of the settlement include:

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi will issue a formal written apology to each of the students and recent alumni who was pepper sprayed or arrested.

The University will pay $1 million as part of the settlement. This includes a total of $730,000 to the named plaintiffs and others who were arrested or pepper-sprayed on November 18. It will also include up to $250,000 in costs and attorney fees.

The University will work with the ACLU as it develops new policies on student demonstrations, crowd management, and use of force to prevent anything like the November 18 pepper spray incident from ever happening again. $20,000 of the settlement will go to the ACLU for its future work with the University on these policies to protect free speech and free expression on campus.

The case has been expanded to a class action lawsuit to make sure that anyone who was pepper-sprayed or arrested that day can be part of the settlement, even if they are not a named plaintiff. $100,000 of the total award will be set aside to compensate other individuals who were pepper-sprayed or wrongfully arrested on November 18, 2011.

The University will also assist students whose academic performance was adversely affected by the incident in applying for academic records adjustment.

More about the incident in the Boing Boing archives.



    1.  At least he got fired – but you’re right that it’s a sad state of affairs that that’s a good result.

    2. This.

      What’s money got to do with anything? Such a western (I used to say American, but it’s crept over) attitude to justice.

      This man needs to be tarred and feathered – a million bucks from a university is irrelevant.

      1. It’s not irrelevant. If the University isn’t punished in some way then they have no motive to prevent something like this from happening again. Clearly there were institutional problems that go beyond the actions of an individual—you’ll notice that none of the other officers on the scene lifted a finger to stop Pepper Cop from doing his thing.

        1. I won’t suggest that the university isn’t partly to blame, but unless they ordered this gentleman to break the law then I think the majority of the liability is in his hands, not theirs.

          1. They did. It’s in the official report on the incident that the campus cops knew that what they were doing was against university policy, and maybe even illegal, and were told that “this decision was made above my level,” that is to say, by the board of directors. In particular, one question they kept asking was, “How can we arrest people for overnight camping in the middle of the afternoon?”

          2. I know it goes against my initial point (which I should have thought more about), but isn’t that a classic Nuremberg defence? Not to suggest they don’t deserve their own punishment for issuing the orders – not in the slightest.

          3. @NathanHornby:disqus : I don’t think you’ll find anyone here defending the cop, but your earlier comments certainly create the impression that you don’t agree with this punishment for the University.

          4. In case any one has failed to notice, we stopped enforcing the Nuremberg principles years ago. Heck, one of the first things that Eric Holder did when he was sworn in was that there would be no prosecutions of any government agents who were following what they believed to be legal orders. Contrary to what I was taught, growing up, and to my disgust and empurpling rage, “I was only following orders” is now a defense, not an indictment.

          5. I disagree; addressing the institutionalized nature of this sort of behavior is way more important.  Not to say the individual doesn’t bear culpability, but the “system” is ultimately to blame.  & yes, sadly money is the only leverage we have for things like that.

      2. Also not new, and not American. Go read some of the medeival Icelandic saga – money to compensate for the murder of a loved one and many other crimes was apparently a standard practice.

        1. Not new in concept, but definitely something perpetuated by a very lawsuit happy nation such as the US. There’s a reason they have more lawyers than anywhere else in the world.

    1. Each plaintiff only got a small chunk of that amount.

      Also, punitive damages are intended to punish the offender enough that they don’t let it happen again, so just covering a few medical bills and throwing in a few bucks for the protesters’ trouble wouldn’t really accomplish the same goal.

      1. Minus legal fees, so more like 30K each. Which is less than what many of them probably already owe in student loans.

        1. :-) $30k is spot-on.

          I can’t resist doing math, so I’ll go off the numbers posted here on BB:

          $1M settlement
          -$250k court & lawyer fees
          -$100k to unnamed defendants Plaintiffs
          -$20k to the ACLU for future work with UCLA

          Comes out to $630k

          $630k divided by 21 named defendants gives a total of:
          $30,000 per named defendant Plaintiff!

          I love me some math, even if it’s just arithmetic.  And on the internet, it seems no math can be trusted since people tend not to show their work, or even have basic numeracy.

          1. named plaintiffs, not defendants

            Glad you’re good a math though. (Though I have a sick feeling that some day your usage may actually be made correct.)

      1. That’s a very important distinction many seem to be missing. It’s not just a matter of “would you go through that discomfort for that money” because these students weren’t willing participants. It’s like the difference between stepping into a boxing ring and getting beat up by a mugger.

    2.  & your consent to do so would radically alter the nature of the event.  Like, two dudes can box, but somebody punching someone on the street is assault.

      1.  Actually battery in most US jurisdictions.  Assault and battery go hand in hand, though, since battery is usually accompanied by threats of battery (i.e. assault). 

    3. No cop is going to pepper spray you in the face if the cop knows that his employer will be fined 1 million dollars and it will result in the loss of his or her job. This settlement makes it clear what will happen should the police use excess force again.

      1. More tuition hikes for the victim and PTO for the cop involved.

        He had six months to find another job.  Anyone wanna bet he got a higher-paying job in private security? 

    1. How about having PTSD which includes either:
      a) an irrational fear of police and situations which trigger memories of being attacked
      b) an irrational compulsion to get into situations which trigger memories of – or reproduce the intensity of – being attacked

      Being brutalized by the cops isn’t just about the pain.  It can mess with your head pretty bad, for a long time.  Still worth it?

          1. – Intrusive, upsetting memories of the loan – ✔
            – Flashbacks (feeling like the loan payment is due in full right now) – ✔
            – Nightmares (either of the loan or of other frightening things) – ✔
            – Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the loan – ✔
            – Intense physical reactions to reminders of the loan (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating) – ✔

    1. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that you’ve never been hit in the face at close range with military-grade pepper spray and then arrested for your trouble.

      Did I guess right?

      1. I’m not trying to say what happened at UC Davis was in anyway short of severely fucked up or somehow worth it in the end because of the settlement. I have, however, actually seen someone volunteer to be sprayed, at closer range than in this incident, for a much lesser sum, approximately $300. When asked shortly after whether or not it was worth it, he said no (there were also a lot of expletives involved). When asked the next day upon receiving the money, he said it definitely was.

        Now, some caveats: he obviously was not arrested afterwards, and the pepper spray was standard for what police carry, not whatever military grade is. I have, however, heard several personal accounts of military issue pepper spray being regularly used for pranks by military personnel, so I don’t really expect it’s orders of magnitude worse or more dangerous.

        1. Looks like Navin_Johnson below got to the heart of the issue. While I don’t believe being pepper sprayed is an astoundingly traumatic experience (though it certainly is an unpleasant one), it is a big fucking deal when someone sprays you against your will, just like when someone assaults you in any other manner. That’s more true, if anything, when the person doing so is a figure you’re supposed to be able to trust with your safety. The *relatively* innocuous nature of pepper spray is exactly what leads to it being used in such incidents so frequently.

        2.  I’ve seen a work colleague collapse at his desk and get carted off to hospital after the girl who sat next to him for some reason thought it would be funny to put some concentrated pepper extract in his nasal inhaler.

    2.  Have you been sprayed with military grade pepper spray? 
      You should really try it out. 
      A jalapeno rates between a 5,000 and an 8,000 Scofield Heat Units. 
      Riot control pepper spray rates between 8.6 and 9.1 MILLION SHU. 
      How long would you expect to live? 

      1. Yes, I have been sprayed with military grade pepper spray, by the military. It was a lot of fun, but not the kind of fun I’d sign up to have again. It wasn’t that bad, but I understand most people are less tolerant. I was just lucky, I guess.

        1.  did they spray you like a recruit? Or like a dirty hippie whose crap they’ve put up with on their campus for TOO LONG NOW!

          1. In the same sense that there’s no difference between a boxing match and a mugging, or between rough sex and rape.

        2. Pepper spray is not innocuous nor is it suitable for pranks. People have died as a result of exposure to it. Here is one example:

          TODAY show |  Aired on January 17, 2012

          Widow: Pepper spray death was ‘torture’

          62-year-old Nick Christie died just hours after being repeatedly pepper sprayed at the Lee County jail in Ohio, raising questions of abuse by authorities.

    3. You know, if you inhale pepper spray into your lungs, the result can be death. Another possible consequence of pepper spray is permanent injury to your eyes. Some of the students who were pepper-sprayed were admitted to the hospital afterwards.

      Apparently, some people are willing to do almost anything for money, even if it subjects them to daily torment, destroys their lives, or even kills them.

  1. To you folks who joked (I hope!) that you would let the police spray you with that military-grade stuff for a million dollars or even thirty thousand, you might be surprised to hear that some victims find themselves  in the hospital vomiting up blood for hours. Still interested?

    1. As demand for the job of pepper-spray-to-the-face-recipients rises, expect payouts to reduce dramatically. Hell, plenty of people already get sprayed for free. How is a guy like me supposed to make a living when so many others are willing to step up and do the job for free. Sheesh.

      1. When the next big riot occurs, these guys who don’t mind being pepper sprayed are more than welcome to stand in the front line facing the police. Perhaps the real protestors could even pay them to take their place. Mercenary protestors for hire!

      1. While I don’t doubt that ptsd is a distinct possibility for some of the students involved in the above (and I don’t wish to make light of the issue of ptsd itself) I can’t help feeling that it has become one of those terms that’s thrown around at the drop of a hat.

        1.  Well the last thing we’d want to do is talk about the potential consequences of institutional violence…

          1. Or read what other people write, apparently. Still, for the sake of clarity.

            1) I don’t doubt the possibility of ptsd being a potential result of the above events because, y’know, they’re horrendous.
            2) Apropos of nothing, I personally feel that ptsd is an overused term – typically in media and ambulance-chasing circles.

            Not in this context, obviously. But then that’s why I qualified my statement using words to indicate that this particular personal belief wasn’t being applied here and was instead just a subjective observation. I’ll be honest, I thought that was pretty clear.

          2. I’ll be honest, I thought that was pretty clear.

            It looked like you were shushing Marja to me.  Please forgive me for thinking a comment you made in a particular context might actually pertain to that context.  I don’t know what I could have been thinking.

  2. I guess there’s no difference between volunteering to be pepper sprayed and having it done to you against your will, when there’s no excuse for it to begin with.  These comments….

  3. Sad part is, Davis will just up its tuition some more to pay for it. It hurts the College zero. Current and future students will be paying the settlement, not Davis. So, the sum of the punishment to the people behind this is some bad press and one severely overpaid rent-a-cop got sent packing. That’s it. 

    That’s not to say the settlement is a bad thing. Those students deserve a payout and firing Pike was at least something. It’s just sad that’s all that came out of this.

    1. This is exactly the problem. I doubt anyone will be taking any real pay-cuts as a result of this, but students will probably see extra people in classrooms and less new facilities on campus.

  4. So does Officer Swagger Pants still have a job? I mean, given that he just cost his employer a million big ones by going outside his authority. . .

  5. One million is not nearly enough. How about this: “Tuition for each student involved with the protest is limited to the cost of professors and maintenance staff for ten years. Plus, they each get to beat the shit out of an administrative manager of their choice… three times. That sounds “punitive” enough for me, and truth be told, completely fair.

  6. Some relevant points and corrections for all the commenters here:
    The Reynoso report, commissioned to independently examine the event, pointed to massive failures of governance at all levels. The police literally believed (incorrectly) that operational decisions were not theirs to make, and governors believed (incorrectly) that their advice and suggestions would be taken as advice and suggestions rather than orders. Officers were knowingly using a type of pepper spray that is not legal for that use. I don’t know an appropriate definition of “military grade”, but it’s apparently what you spray broadly at entire crowds from 50 feet away, not from that range.
    Each student will be getting around $30k, that math is correct.
    The cop was suspended and then fired, during which time he was paid $60k.
    Chancellor Katehi, who holds the highest office at UC Davis and is ultimately responsible (IMO) for the governance atmosphere that enabled the spraying, earns $30k in a month and still works there.
    Tuition at UC Davis is also around $30k a year.
    Given the massive decline in state funding to the UC system, it is highly unlikely that anyone other than students are to pay this bill, either through tuition increases or service decreases (class size increases are a kind of service decrease).

    Credit for all of this goes to the inestimable Angus Johnston of studentactivism.net and @studentactivism:disqus. Also, anyone interested (or outraged, like you damn well should be) should read the Reynoso report.

  7. Hrm. Well, 30k’ll get you two years or so of tuition (excuse me, “fees”) assuming you’re an in-state student and assuming the regents don’t further jack them up by another couple thousand dollars any time soon… but considering that they’ve raised the cost by nearly 5k/year in the last four years alone, there’s probably not a lot of hope of that.

  8. Well at least the wrong has been recognised. But where does that £1m come from? Student fees must make up a portion of it.

    One wonders, if the constitution was breached, why the police were not sued, and in particular the officer with the industrial pepper spray sprayer. 

    Looking at the footage again it still seems outrageous.

  9. Does this really hurt the University? Isn’t this settlement paid for by the other students at UC Berkley?  That’s where the school gets it’s money from right?  Students.  Seems ironic that in a protest about the unreasonable cost of education; a minority of students are costing the others more money.  

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