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Excessive Police Force – Coming to a Campus Near You?

Posted on Jan 20, 2014

College campuses are supposed to be safe havens for young adults to learn and prepare themselves for their future careers. But over the past several years, there have been several high-profile instances of campus police using excessive force against students.

Fortunately, none of these cases has been as severe as this police brutality case handled by the personal injury attorneys of Hupy and Abraham. But, is it really necessary for campus police to use chemical agents or Taser guns, as they have done in the past, to subdue students? And is there a trend developing?

The most highly publicized incident of campus police crossing the line occurred in 2011 at the University of California, Davis. Steep tuition hikes throughout the entire University of California system prompted widespread student protests at various campuses.

On November 18, 2011, police arrived at the UC Davis campus wearing riot gear to try and quell a protest of a few hundred students. Some of the students linked arms and refused to move before Officer John Pike pepper sprayed a group of 21 peaceful, unarmed protesters. Furthermore, Pike sprayed the students from point-blank range even though the recommended minimum distance is six feet.

This incident led to widespread criticism of Pike and the UC Davis administration. After filing suit, each of the 21 students received approximately $30,000 due to the anxiety and trauma incurred with the altercation. Interestingly enough, Officer Pike received $38,000 on the merit of the psychiatric distress he suffered from the blacklash against his actions.

Back in 2006, a Taser gun was used on a UCLA student in a library for refusing to show campus police his student ID. Around 11 a.m., campus police were making their rounds to ensure everyone in the university library was a student. 23-year-old Mostafa Tabatabainejad, under suspicion of racial profiling, refused to show his ID and was asked to leave.

As officers tried to escort him out of the building, he went limp and refused to walk. The officers then told him he either had to walk or they would use a Taser gun on him. Ultimately, officers did use a Taser gun on Tabatabainejad multiple times. Why the student didn’t simply show his ID to the officers in the first place is beside the point. The real question is why campus police felt the need to use such force against a passively resistant student. This altercation resulted in a $220,000 settlement.

More recently, in 2013, an unruly, handcuffed fan was maced at Beaver Stadium during a Penn State football game. Although the fan reportedly struck a female usher and was being physical with police, it’s hard to imagine why the mace was necessary given that multiple officers already had control of him. It’s also worth noting that the fan was sprayed in the face from only a few inches away as opposed to a safer distance.

With all of these incidents in mind, the question that needs to be asked is where this is all heading. Are campus police departments learning from these incidents and revising their policies to prevent excessive force or will this type of thing become more common? Or worse yet, is the use of a Taser gun and spraying of students merely a precursor to campus police using lethal force down the road?