Court ruling could affect pepper spray use

FRESNO, Calif.

Action News has learned about a court case which could impact the future use of force by officers.

The images of police pepper-spraying protestors at UC Davis outraged people across the country and sparked controversy over when such use of force is acceptable.

Now Action News has learned the incident on November 18th came about three months after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals set a new precedent for the use of pepper spray.

"The 9th Circuit held that the use of pepper spray must be justified in the same way that tazers are used. That standard is very high," Deputy Ed Obayashi of the Merced County Sheriff's Office said.

Obayashi is a subject matter expert for Peace Officers Standards and Training, better known as POST. He says the August 26th court ruling stated officers must face an immediate threat in order to use pepper spray.

That's different than how they've typically been trained.

"If the deputies or officers had to go hands on with an uncooperative suspect that justified the use of a tazer or pepper spray, and that is simply no longer the case under 9th circuit law," he said.

Obayashi says it can take some time for law enforcement agencies to learn about changes like this because of the sheer number of cases. We contacted UC Davis to see if the police department was aware of the ruling, and a spokesperson said it's one of the questions that will come up in ongoing reviews.

Students at UC Merced are planning a peaceful protest for Monday. The university's police chief says she is aware of the recent court ruling on pepper spray and will make sure her officers are thoroughly briefed on the decision.

In a statement to Action News, Chief Rita Spaur goes on to say, "our use of any force will be the absolute minimum required to ensure the safety of all, and will only come in response to violent actions toward others or UC Merced property."

The campus is quiet because of the holiday, but one visitor who has applied for the PhD program says the university's policy is reassuring.

"I'm totally sold on UC Merced and hearing that is just helpful in terms of knowing what kind of community I hope to join," Dorie Perez said.

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