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College president defends use of pepper spray against ‘unlawful’ crowd

By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Santa Monica College officials said Wednesday a police officer was forced to release pepper spray to maintain safety after a large crowd of students tried to force entry into a meeting of the Board of Trustees.

The incident at Tuesday night’s board meeting resulted in three people being transported to hospitals for treatment and released and 15 to 30 people treated at the scene by fire department paramedics. No arrests were made.

In a statement, college President Chui L. Tsang said police officers exercised restraint even though a segment of students had acted in an unlawful manner, including setting off fire alarms and attempting 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.”

The incident began about 7:15 p.m. as about 100 students converged on the small meeting room to protest a plan by the school to offer some courses at a higher cost this summer.

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, were also affected.

Several students said they heard no warning before the spray was released. The college informed participants who were injured that they can submit medical bills to the student affairs office.

The trustees were considering a proposal to offer higher-priced courses at the college this summer to help students who have been shut out of the classes they needed to transfer to four-year universities.

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