NEWS RELEASE, 06/30/98

UC Berkeley releases Police Review Board report on April 1997 Sproul Hall confrontation between UC police and demonstrators

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

BERKELEY -- The University of California, Berkeley, today released the Campus Police Review Board's final report on an April 28, 1997, demonstration at Sproul Hall.

The demonstration by students protesting Proposition 209 resulted in a widely publicized confrontation between student protesters and officers of the University of California Police Department. A number of students twice sought to force their way through a police line, and the police responded with the use of force, including hands, batons and pepper spray.

Acting at the request of the UC Police Department and Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell, who oversees the department, the Campus Police Review Board reviewed the conclusions of the department's own investigation of the incident. The review board conducted an independent investigation and hearings and presented the final report to Mitchell on June 9.

The demonstration began at around 1 p.m. when students locked all exits from the building, as well as interior stairwells and the elevator, with U-shaped bicycle locks, preventing employees from leaving. When police quickly responded, the 50 or so demonstrators retreated to the west foyer of the building. During a sit-in that lasted several hours, the demonstrators twice tried to break through a police line preventing them from entering the main corridor of the building. Not long after the second and more violent incident, the demonstrators left the building.

Among the board's conclusions were:

  • The UCPD acted appropriately in setting up and defending a police line barring entry to Sproul Hall because the actions of student demonstrators in locking down the building had created a threat to life and safety.
  • The overall levels of force used to repel the student attempts to force the police line were necessary to hold the line and were reasonable. The evidence, the board stated, "shows that the students were the
  • While, in general, the officers dealt with a difficult situation without breaking discipline and with appropriate restraint, the board concluded that three officers on the line used unreasonable force against demonstrators. Two officers were found to have used unreasonable force a total of four times in deploying their batons. One officer was found to have used unreasonable force in deploying pepper spray and to have failed to adequately report that action to the department. The board could not determine whether several other uses of the baton were reasonable because of uncertainties in the evidence.
    • The board was undecided on whether most uses of pepper spray during the demonstration were justified. On the one hand, the board recognized that some uses of pepper spray appeared to have been effective and to have reduced the need for more violent measures. Nevertheless, the board was concerned about the clarity and wisdom of the UCPD's policy for the use of pepper spray in crowd control situations and about the adequacy of the UCPD's pepper spray training.
  • A number of command, communications and coordination problems prevented the department and campus administrators from responding to the demonstration with full effectiveness. Eliminating those problems would have significantly increased the likelihood of a better outcome.
  • Based upon these findings, the board recommended the adoption of written campus-wide and departmental crowd control policies, improved pepper spray training and an overall review of the effectiveness of pepper spray for crowd control and in less specialized uses.

    "Our report is the result of a careful review of all the available evidence about what happened on April 28," said Stephen Bundy, UC Berkeley professor of law and chair of the review board. "While it may not please partisans on either side, we strongly believe that it is balanced and that it outlines a sound, forward-looking program for reducing the likelihood of such incidents in the future."

    In response to the report, UC Berkeley Police Chief Victoria Harrison said, "I am happy to see that the review board agrees with our own internal investigation's conclusions regarding the overall use of force during the demonstration.

    "However, I strongly disagree with their finding that three officers used unreasonable force, and I question the standards they used in evaluating the actions of these officers. Our police officers responded professionally to a difficult situation. I continue to believe their response was appropriate given the circumstances."

    Both Harrison and Vice Chancellor Mitchell pledged to address the Board's criticisms and to consider its policy recommendations.

    "I look forward to working with the Police Review Board and the UC Police Department to deal with these issues," Mitchell said.

    Members of the board who signed the report included Bundy, Professor Jewelle Taylor Gibbs of the School of Social Welfare, Professor Sheldon Zedeck of the Psychology Department, Director John Matsui of the Biology Scholars Program, Jess Bravin of the Graduate Assembly, and Harry Stern, Esq., a lawyer and retired officer of the Berkeley City Police Department. A seventh member of the Board, Hikari Kimura, a representative of the Associated Students of the University of California, was removed from the board in March for violating its confidentiality rules and did not participate in the board's final decision

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