UC Merced

UC Merced student among protesters arrested at Regents meeting

Protesters break the line of University of California police officers at the garage entrance to the University of California  Campus in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday Nov. 17, 2010.     Students clashed with police outside a meeting of the UC Board of Regents, which is scheduled to vote on another tuition increase.  UC spokesman Pete King says police arrested at least 16 protesters who tried to cross a police barricade at the building where the regents were meeting on the San Francisco campus.   (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Laura A. Oda)  MANDATORY CREDIT
Protesters break the line of University of California police officers at the garage entrance to the University of California Campus in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday Nov. 17, 2010. Students clashed with police outside a meeting of the UC Board of Regents, which is scheduled to vote on another tuition increase. UC spokesman Pete King says police arrested at least 16 protesters who tried to cross a police barricade at the building where the regents were meeting on the San Francisco campus. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Laura A. Oda) MANDATORY CREDIT AP

Police arrested 13 people, including Peter Howell, a UC Merced student, during a protest at Wednesday's UC regents meeting over student fee increases and changes to worker pension plans at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus. Three officers were injured.

Howell was arrested on felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon after he allegedly grabbed a campus police officer's baton and struck the officer in the head, said campus Police Chief Pamela Roskowski. The officer then drew his gun on the crowd in self-defense and called for assistance.

The attack occured after Howell, and a group of other protesters, surrounded the police officer in a parking garage, Roskowski said.

"It was an angry and unruly and aggressive crowd," Roskowski said. "He had drawn his weapon to protect himself. He was very concerned about his safety."

UC regents will vote today on whether to raise student fees by 8 percent. About 300 students and UC workers, 30 of whom were UC Merced students, gathered at the graduate school campus to protest the proposed fee increase and to changes to workers' retirement benefits. Several spoke during the public comment period.

Emily Hallinan, a 22-year-old UC Merced senior, attended the UC Regent meeting because she said she's angry over the possible fee increase. "I think it's a joke that they're raising fees again when the UCs were founded on an education that was accessible to the masses -- not the financial elite," she said.

As students and workers made their way inside the building to state their case to the regents, some students got too close to the police barricades and the protest turned violent. Police used pepper spray on protesters, according to Jose Godinez, a UC Merced student.

Demitra Borrero, a 22-year-old UC Merced student, said she was sprayed with pepper spray while she stood in the crowd. She said the substance got in her eyes, nose and throat and she couldn't stop coughing and crying.

About 15 people were exposed to the pepper spray, Roskowski told The Associated Press.

Another officer was injured when students dismantled one of the barricades and used it as a weapon, she said. Campus police will investigate the incident.

UC Merced students said they planned to return to Merced on Wednesday and were unsure if they would head back to UC San Francisco today for the regents' decision.

Regents will decide today whether to raise in-state tuition by $822 to $11,124 a year. The figure doesn't include individual campus fees or room and board. The increase would go into effect in fall 2011 and raise an estimated $180 million in annual revenue, with $64 million set aside for financial aid.

UC officials have said a fee hike is necessary to pay for classes, equipment and to restore student support services since state funding has been inadequate, UC officials said.

The regents are also scheduled to vote on a plan to expand its financial aid program, called the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, so students from families earning less than $80,000 annually would not have to pay any tuition if they qualify for state and federal aid. The program currently covers families earning less than $70,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached (209) 285-2407 or joppenheim@mercedsun-star.com.

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