The pepper-spray incident April 3 resulted in three people being taken to hospitals and released, and 15 to 30 others being treated at the scene by Santa Monica Fire Department paramedics. No arrests were made.

The incident began about 7:15 p.m. as about 100 students converged on the small meeting room to protest the two-tier pricing plan.

The school handed out numbers for participants to be seated in the main board room and provided an adjacent room for the overflow.

But many students remained in the corridor and tried to enter the door to the main room, which was blocked by several police officers. As the crowd tried to surge through the door, there was one discharge of pepper spray, according to Tsang. Other bystanders, including college staff and police officers, also were affected. The college informed participants who were injured that they can submit medical bills to the student affairs office.

In the statement, Tsang said police officers exercised restraint even though a segment of students had acted unlawfully, including setting off fire alarms and trying to disrupt the meeting.

“Santa Monica College regrets that a group of people chose to disrupt a public meeting in an unlawful manner,” said Tsang. “The college has launched a full investigation into the matter.”

On April 4, it was mostly business as usual at the 34,000-student campus. Several students who had been at the board meeting the previous evening held a news conference on the steps of the library to recount events. Among them was Kayleigh Wade, who said protesters were pepper-sprayed without warning.

“There is no way to justify this behavior by police officers,” said Wade, 19.

But others students said police acted properly in defending themselves and others after the crowd got rowdy.

Ernie Sevilla said that he was next to the officer who used the pepper spray and that both were pressed against the wall by students.

The officer, he said, followed his training. “What else was he to do?” Sevilla said.

Students chanted, “No cuts, no fees, education should be free” after the news conference. A few wore white T-shirts that read: “I was pepper sprayed.” Students said they want the college to hold a campus-wide referendum on the two-tier plan.

The Santa Monica melee follows high-profile incidents in November in which police used pepper spray to disperse student demonstrators at the University of California, Davis and at a meeting of the California State University Board of Trustees.

Copyright (c) 2012, the Los Angeles Times. Visit the Los Angeles Times online at www.latimes.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.


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