Last fall, approximately 25 students protested the rising cost of tuition at UC Davis.
In a non-violent demonstration, the group sat in the middle of the campus quad, arms interlocked, and waited for the authorities to arrive.
Well, they did. Police officers arrived on scene armed with, among other pieces of tactical equipment, pepper spray.
The students were told to disperse and when they failed to comply, the officers began dousing them with pepper spray (see video).
The incident drew national attention and the ire of many public advocacy groups, which served to galvanize other protesters and activists, particularly those in the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
At some point, amidst all the outrage, these students opted to lawyer-up. Twenty-one of them sought the counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union. With representation, the group then filed a joint lawsuit against the University of California, the public university system that oversees UC Davis along with 9 other campuses.
On Wednesday, ACLU lawyers announced that the University of California has opted to settle the lawsuit, agreeing to pay out $1 million to the demonstrators who were pepper-sprayed on that day in November.
“If the First Amendment means anything, it’s that you should be able to demonstrate without being afraid of police violence,” Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. “The settlement should be a wake-up call for other universities and police departments.”
Under the terms of the settlement, each of the 21 students listed on the complaint will receive $30,000. Their attorneys will split $250,000 and an additional 100,000 will be set-aside for other victims who have yet to come forward.
Additionally, the UC Davis Chancellor, Linda Katehi, will have to write each plaintiff that was either pepper sprayed or arrested a personal apology.
“It was felt that the proposed settlement was in the best interest of the university,” UC spokesman Steve Montiel told the Associated Press. Officials believed the cost of going to trial would be greater than the settlement, he added.
What will the students do with their newfound wealth?
At least two of the students said they would put the money toward their education (a wise move, I would probably spend the money on beer and guns).
“I plan to use all the money to pay future tuition,” Iam Lee said at a press conference. “That’s what a lot of my friends are doing.”
Elizabeth Lara said she would “Either to use it to pay off the loans that I have for my undergraduate education or save it for grad school.
However, Fatima Sbeih, in a noble gesture, vowed to give her money to those who are in need. “Honestly I’ve already decided to donate all of it to people who are in debt,” she said.
It should be noted that none of the law enforcement personnel involved in the spray down incident were indicted on criminal charges. Yolo County prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to prove the use of force was illegal.
It may not have been illegal, but was it necessary? Was it excessive?
The task force assigned to investigate the matter chalked it up to “poor communication” from the top-down, from the officials at the University to those who administered the pepper spray, noting that it “could have been prevented.”
In the end, where do you come out on all of this? Do you believe the police went overboard with their use of force? Do you think the settlement was fair? Do you think this will serve as a ‘teachable moment’ for campus officials and law enforcement?