UC Davis Settles With ACLU For $1M Over Pepper-Spraying Incident

DAVIS, Calif.—Attorneys for 21 University of California Davis students and recent alumni announced the details of their settlement of the federal class-action lawsuit against the school over the November 2011 pepper-spraying incident.

The lawsuit claimed that the police violated state and federal constitutional protections, including the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, when they arrested and used pepper spray against the demonstrators. The UC Regents approved the settlement in a Sept. 13 meeting, and the settlement documents were filed with the court on Wednesday. A federal court judge must approve the settlement before it is finalized.

“I want to make sure that nothing like this happens again. That’s the best thing that could come from this. Since Nov. 18, students have been afraid of the police. The university still needs to work to rebuild students’ trust and this settlement is a step in the right direction,” said Fatima Sbeih, who just graduated with an international studies degree. Sbeih was pepper-sprayed on the quad. The ACLU claims she had panic attacks and frequent nightmares for months after the incident, and often woke up screaming.

“I want the university and the police to understand what they did wrong. Police should be accountable to students,” said Ian Lee, who will be a sophomore this year. Lee was less than two months into college when he was pepper-sprayed last year. “I was demonstrating because of rising tuition hikes and privatization of the university. Then we faced police brutality in response. I felt like the university silenced me.” The ACLU claims that after the incident Lee experienced panic attacks and was afraid to participate in protests.

Terms of the Settlement

The settlement was filed on Wednesday with the U.S. 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 Nov. 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 Nov. 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 Nov. 18, 2011.
  • The university will also assist students whose academic performance was adversely affected by the incident in applying for academic records adjustment.

Read the ACLU press release.

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