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‘My mouth began to burn’: Sonoma State University faculty pelted with pepper spray, water gel beads during strike


Jan 23, 2024

The assaults occurred about five hours apart and were orchestrated by different suspects, police said

Sonoma State University faculty members were hit with water gel beads and nearly pelted with pepper spray Monday as staff participated in a statewide strike, police said.

Two separate attacks occurred on the Rohnert Park campus as more than 40 Sonoma State educators took part in a statewide walkout of California State University campuses amid stalled contract negotiations.

The protest was the first day of the planned weeklong strike, but a tentative deal was reached late Monday.

The first assault, according to Sonoma State University police, was reported about 7:15 a.m. after a man driving a Tesla tried to pepper spray two faculty members in a crosswalk as he drove past them on Sequoia Way near East Cotati Avenue.

The two — Sil Machado, an associate professor in counseling and clinical mental health, and Emily Clark, an associate professor in modern language and literature — said they were the first on the picket lines that morning when the attack occurred.

Machado said a white Tesla drove past them before slowing and doing a U-turn by the kiosk.

“They said, ‘What are you going to do? Block me?’ and I said, I'm just walking in a crosswalk,” Clark said.

The person continued to yell profanities before he started spraying them with an unknown substance.

“They were fortunately pretty far away from us, but I got some on my sign because I used it sort of like a shield,” Machado said. “Later on, my mouth began to burn so we got rid of that sign.”

The man, who was described as 30 to 40 years old with a shaved head and no facial hair, then drove west on East Cotati Avenue, police said.

His vehicle was a white Tesla — its model unknown — with a license plate that started with “9C7 or 97C.”

“I wasn't expecting that,” Clark said. “The fact that it did happen has made me more aware now that I'm on the picket line and more aware that like there is potential danger.”

Shortly after the interview with the two faculty members ― about five hours after the first incident ― four teenage boys in a moving vehicle shot water beads, sometimes identified under the brand name Orbeez, an expandable water toy, at faculty at Vine Street and East Cotati Avenue.

It was about a block away from the first attack.

Several employees were struck but were not injured. They decided not to press charges, SSU Police Chief Nader Oweis said.

SSU police eventually found the teen’s vehicle at Rancho Cotate High School, just around the corner from the reported assault. Officers relayed the events to the school’s resource officer and administration.

Based on preliminary information, authorities believe the attacks were random and not connected to the strike, Oweis said.

Anyone with information that might assist with the investigation is urged to call the Sonoma State University Police Department at 707-664-4444.

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