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California campus police on leave after pepper-spraying

By the CNN Wire Staff
November 21, 2011 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Putting officers on leave is "the right thing to do at the time," chief says
  • An investigation into the incident will be sped up, the chancellor says
  • Video of police pepper-spraying demonstrators sparked widespread criticism
  • "You are unfit to do your job," one professor tells the school's chancellor

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(CNN) -- The University of California at Davis has placed two police officers on administrative leave after video of them pepper-spraying non-violent protesters at point-blank range sparked outrage at school officials.

Friday's incident has led to calls for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, who announced the action in a written statement Sunday. Katehi said she shares the "outrage" of students and was "deeply saddened" by the use of the chemical irritant by campus police.

"I am deeply saddened that this happened on our campus, and as chancellor, I take full responsibility for the incident," she said. "However, I pledge to take the actions needed to ensure that this does not happen again."

And Annette Spicuzza, the campus police chief, told CNN that putting the officers on leave "is the right thing to do at this time." They will be sidelined until an investigation is complete, and "hopefully that won't take too long," she said.

Katehi said that investigation, initially announced Saturday, would be sped up. Katehi said the task force established to conduct the probe will now report in 30 days, instead of 90. And she said she will hold talks with students, faculty and staff "to listen to their concerns and hear their ideas for restoring civil discourse to the campus."

Police spray seated Occupy protesters

A group of about a dozen protesters sat on a path with their arms interlocked as police moved in to clear out a protest encampment affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement Friday. Most of the protesters had their heads down as a campus police officer walked down the line, spraying them in their faces in a sweeping motion.

"I was shocked," Sophia Kamran, one of the protesters subjected to the spray, said Saturday. "When students are sitting on the ground and no way of moving to be violent, being totally peaceful, I don't understand the use of pepper spray against them."

The school said 10 protesters arrested were given misdemeanor citations for unlawful assembly and failure to disperse. Eleven were treated for the effects of pepper spray, which burns the eyes and nose, causing coughing, gagging and shortness of breath.

Occupy roundup: A fallout, a silent protest and a new encampment

Earlier, UC Davis spokeswoman Claudia Morain said police used pepper spray after protesters encircled them and blocked them from leaving. Cut off from backup, the officers determined the situation was not safe and asked people several times to make room, Morain said.

But Spicuzza said the officers were put on leave after "discussion and reviews and time to contact these officers."

"We're going to continue to do our jobs here on campus, which is to keep this campus and community safe," she said. "And the officers will be given their due process."

The the incident set off a flood of comments on the school's Facebook page, most of them critical of police and the administration. The Davis Faculty Association, citing incidents at other campuses, demanded "that the chancellors of the University of California cease using police violence to repress nonviolent political protests."

It called for greater attention to cuts in state funding to education and rising tuition. Its board demanded Katehi resign, saying she exhibited "gross failure of leadership."

Saturday, Katehi called the officers' actions "chilling" and said the video "raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this." But she refused calls from faculty members and others for her to step down, saying she did not violate campus policies.

Saturday evening, as Katehi left campus, dozens of students sat cross-legged and with their arms linked in a silent protest.

A reporter asked Katehi, "Do you still feel threatened by the students?"

"No," she replied. "No."

Time: Watch video of police pepper-spraying and arresting students

Morain told CNN that 25 tents were in place Friday afternoon despite fliers explaining the campus prohibits overnight camping. It does so for security and health reasons, Katehi said.

After written and verbal warnings, officers reminded the protesters they would be subject to arrest if they did not move their tents from the quad, Morain said. Many protesters did decide to remove their tents and equipment, officials said.

Critics took issue with the college's account, saying the seated protesters did not pose a threat to the officers.

"Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students," wrote Nathan Brown, an assistant professor in the college's English Department, in an open letter to the chancellor. He said that police then used batons to separate the students, kneeled on their bodies and pushed their heads to the ground.

"When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats," Brown wrote.

He called on Katehi to resign.

"I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis."

CNN's Phil Gast and Marlena Baldacci contributed to this report.

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