Pepper spray protesters, police and BOT in question
During a highly anticipated Board of Trustees meeting on April 3, 2012, 30 civilians were pepper sprayed, Contract Education was postponed, and Santa Monica College was thrust into the national spotlight.
After a nine month investigation that collected and reviewed information from surveys, police radio transmissions, and photographic and video records of the night in question, the panel released its findings in a 184-page report in January.
President and Superintendent Dr. Chui L. Tsang appointed an independent review panel to “consider the incident and to review policies, practices, and protocols relevant to the college’s response to demonstrations and similar events,” according to a summary of the report.
There are 13 recommendations issued in the report to various departments on campus regarding planning campus speech events, training in emergency protocols, and a call for educating the campus community on protest rights and responsibilities.
The investigation concluded that veteran campus officers acted professionally, some protesters engaged in unacceptable conduct, and that inappropriate force was used by one officer.
Former Associated Students President Harrison Wills’ actions are brought under scrutiny in the report.
“AS President Harrison Wills’ intention to incite others to use force rather than reasoning is quite evident,” according to page 28 of the report.
The report further states, “he subsequently circulated the crowd telling people to use force to keep the boardroom door open. His attempt to incite others to perform illegal actions that evening crossed the line from lawful to unlawful conduct.”
“That could not be further from the truth," said Wills. "To say I’m not a person of reason is a complete lie. Education is a right; it changes lives.”
Protesters including Wills strongly objected to the BOT meeting being held in such a small venue. Santa Monica College Police Department also claims that they requested for the March 2012 board meeting to be held in a larger room, according to the report.
The BOT denies ever receiving this request, and after the March meeting transpired without an incident, no such request was made by the SMCPD to move the April board meeting to a larger room.
Conversely, the SMCPD report concluded that the "confrontation" could have been avoided if requests to move the meeting to a larger room had been met.
"I believe that if the BOT hopes to secure the Business Building from any further turmoil from disrupting classes, they ought to consider moving the meetings when protests are expected," said Joshua Scuteri, student trustee at the time of the incident, and the only student on the panel.
"The mishandled incident of April 3 should never happen again," said Scuteri. "Pepper spraying an entire crowd of people, without warning parenthetically, amounts to suppressive measures and it instills in people that protests are too dangerous to attend. People should be encouraged to speak out, never silenced."
Of the 13 recommendations in the report, number nine states that, “SMCPD policies regarding the use of less lethal weapons should be reviewed and revised.”
Specifically, “explicit guidelines about the allowable strength and composition of chemical agents should be instituted. The use of chemical agents in occupied buildings should not be used because of their impact on bystanders. Situations in which chemical agents may be deployed without warning should be explicitly delimited.”
This recommendation is in response to the SMCPD’s decision to pepper spray the crowd of protesters on April 3, where Green Party senate candidate David Steinman and a four-year-old girl were affected.
According to the report, Sgt. Jeremiah Williams was using Red Sabre, a non-issue pepper spray which contains 1.33 percent of the ingredient oleoresin capsicum, without permission. Red Sabre is significantly stronger than standard issue spray MK-3, which contains 0.2 percent OC.
Williams resigned on Oct. 25, 2012. The college and the SMCPD declined to comment on his resignation.
"Who was at fault, be it the police, the administration, or the students seems to me incidental to the panel," said Scuteri.
Critics of the report claim that the investigation was not extensive enough, and more feedback from students is necessary. Current AS President Parker Jean said at a recent BOT meeting that there was a "lack of community outreach before [the meeting].”
"If there's a controversial issue, you should reach out to as many constituency groups as possible,” said Jean.
"Students themselves need training in the limits of free speech,” said Donald Girard, senior director of government relations and institutional communications.
“The planning was deficient,” said Girard. “The college believes it has the information it needs to plan for a future event.”
Affected departments have less than two months to report to Tsang regarding their compliance with the recommendations.
The report can be found at http://www2.smc.edu/review_panel_report/pdfs/Review_Panel_Final_Report.pdf