UC Davis California Censored Google With University Funds To Suppress Pepper Spray Incident

UC Davis California appears to have paid a lot of money to censor Google search results in order to protect its public image. The maneuver came after a video went viral of a group of young Occupy Wall Street protesters being pepper sprayed by police.

UC Davis’ anti-smear campaign was revealed to the public under the California Public Records Act. Local paper The Sacramento Bee, based 40 minutes from UC Davis, posted the full set of documents to its website.

The paper’s research revealed that in January 2013, UC Davis entered into a six-month contract with Nevins & Associates, a Maryland media relations company. The California university shelled out $15,000 a month for its services.

A year and a half later, UC Davis appears to have still found itself confronting negative Google results about the pepper spray incident. It paid an additional $82,500 to marketing agency IDMLOCO to “design and execute a comprehensive search engine results management strategy.”

Between those two revealed contracts, the newspaper estimated that a total of $175,000 was paid out for UC Davis damage control. Doug Elmets, a Sacramento public affairs consultant, told the Bee that this was not necessarily standard procedure for a university.

“I would say that it is common for an individual who might be applying for a job or an individual who has been wrongly maligned to go to a company like Reputation.com, but for a public university that is funded through taxpayer funds, who has repeatedly stepped into a vast hole, it is surprising that they thought this could be done without the light of day shining on the act. It is one more example of how out of touch the leadership at UC Davis is when it comes to their public perspective.”

UC Davis California censors Google over pepper spray
UC Davis California laid down a significant amount to cash to rid itself of negative Google results that embarrassed it years after a pepper-spraying incident. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

While UC Davis was attempting to improve its image, the revelations appear to have had the opposite effect. Kevin McCarty, of California’s Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, also expressed his anger over the newfound evidence.

“It is troubling that the administration chose to spend scarce public dollars and to nearly double its PR budget when tuition soared, course offerings were slashed and California resident students were being shut out. These findings just raise more questions about university priorities.”

UC Davis California censors Google over pepper spray
Pepper spray is used around the world as one of the safest ways for police to control crowds, but at UC Davis Occupy protesters hit with the chemical sparked a national outrage. (Photo by Luis Ascui/ Getty Images)

Among the methods meant to bring UC Davis back to its former shine was “to expedite the eradication of references to the pepper-spray incident in search results.” After national attention focused in on the university as well as Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, the California higher learning institution became symbolic of police crackdown on the Occupy movement protests across the nation. Katehi immediately tried to distance herself, reported San Francisco Chronicle.

“I want to unequivocally apologize to the entire community for the appalling use of pepper spray. I will do everything in my power to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. My instructions were for no arrests and no police force. I explicitly directed the chief of police that violence should be avoided at all costs… Our university has to be better. We need to work together. I know that you may not believe anything I say right now, but it is my responsibility to earn your trust.”

Do you think UC Davis California’s actions against Google search results about the pepper-spray incident were justified?

[Image via Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]