CHAPEL HILL — Three local activists complained to a police accreditation committee Monday that campus public-safety officers unnecessarily pepper-sprayed them in the eyes during a protest of a speech by former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo last month.
Members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Protesters Defense Committee also filed a formal complaint against the public safety department, claiming police action during and after the protest was "unnecessary and politically motivated with the intent of spreading a chill across campus."
"I shouldn't be concerned about my safety for going there and chanting," said student Anthony Magglione, who said he sought medical treatment from an EMT on the scene and from a campus health clinic the next day. "I was blinded, and I couldn't see anything."
Campus Police Chief Jeff McCracken said the complaint would initiate a more thorough investigation than had been planned previously.
"I never received a formal complaint until today, which is interesting timing," said McCracken, referring to the accreditation committee's visit this week. "Now that we've received a formal complaint, there'll be a full-blown investigation because of the formal complaint, not because of the circumstances."
Police spokesman Randy Young and Chancellor Holden Thorp have been saying for weeks that the department would investigate officers' handling of the protest. McCracken declined to explain how a full-blown investigation would differ from what was already promised except to say that more people would be interviewed.
"There were no injuries, and there was no complainant," said McCracken, explaining why a more thorough investigation did not begin immediately upon the officers' use of force. "Anonymous complaints that are launched through the media are not considered complaints."
The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies will not investigate specific incidents, but will make sure DPS has a process in place to handle citizen complaints, according to a commission spokesman.
The protesters defense committee continues to call for an independent investigation, a permanent civilian review board and the dropping of all criminal charges related to recent political protests.
The formal complaint claims that on the evening of the Tancredo protest, Lt. Lawrence Twiddy threw 22-year-old Haley Koch onto the floor, across the Bingham Hall corridor and into the opposite wall.
"She was bruised for several days as a result of the excessive force," states the complaint. It also states that an officer arrested Koch the following week outside a class and led her across campus in handcuffs.
"She was visibly and publicly humiliated to set an example that is designed to chill the speech and political activity of other students," the complaint reads.
The complaint also says an officer grabbed one woman by the hair, that eight to 10 protesters were sprayed directly in the face with pepper spray and that a student-activist who was not at the protest was repeatedly "harassed" by investigators.
The protesters also questioned why recent political protests have led to seven arrests while more disruptive, damaging and dangerous events such at the basketball championship celebration on Franklin Street and a 3,000-student "flash rave" in Davis Library were not as harshly punished.
"It is clear that the campus police are selectively targeting student activists," the complaint says.
Shirish and Teema Devastali, whose daughter Rakhee participated in the Tancredo protest, blasted the police response.
"The campus police are here to protect our students," said Teema Devastali. "I feel very scared as a mother. I don't want to lose my child. I certainly don't want my child to be disabled either."