The image of college students sitting with their arms locked on the campus green, while swaggering police officers dowsed them with pepper spray has been a repulsive wakeup call. If police officers can act with such disregard for safety in the middle of a college campus, then what do they in the inner city, at night, when there aren’t witnesses documenting their conduct? Abuse of authority by the police is painfully common, but most of the victims don’t come out with videos. They emerge from county jail on trumped up charges, and the police officers go home, take a shower, and show up at court telling a very different story from what went on.
An investigation is still being performed in the case of the protesters who have been pepper sprayed at UC Davis. I am all for an investigation. I want a full and fair investigation for every one of my clients, when they are accused of wrongdoing, and I would concede the same exact right to the police.
But the UC Davis administration is going to have a lot of explaining to do. “A picture” – much less a video – “is worth a thousand words.” Even if these college students disobeyed a lawful order to disperse, they were not physically violent. It seems the officers could have physically extricated them, and only if they actively resisted resorted to a higher level of force. Moreover, aiming pepper spray at protesters’ faces from point blank range strikes me as malicious. The proper distance is at least six feet.
Under the U.S. Constitution, an officer may use force in effecting an arrest if the use of such force is reasonable under the circumstances. Under California Penal Code Section 149, an officer who assaults any person without lawful necessity is guilty of a crime.