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Police Play Russian Roulette
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Editorials agree it was torture, new compilation
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Spray on Nonviolent Protesters!
Deputies pepper sprayed Mike McCurdy (above) and Noel Tendick directly across the eyes at close range while they were locked together through the tracks of a Pacific Lumber bulldozer on an old-growth redwood logging site. The activists endured the torture and did not unlock. Deputies safely cut them loose with a portable grinder, as they could have done without using pepper spray, and as they had done for years previously.
For larger photos see our Photos and Graphics page
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Jury Finds Sheriff's Use Of Pepper Spray Unconstitutional
Press Conference at noon Friday, April 29, 2005, outside the San Francisco Federal Courthouse, 450 Golden Gate Ave. (at Polk St.)
Heidi Terbrack, (707) 496-7645
Media Office: Karen Pickett (510) 548-3113
San Francisco--After only twelve hours of deliberation, the federal jury returned a unanimous verdict finding that Humboldt County Sheriffs used excessive force when they swabbed pepper spray into the eyes of forest activists. The jurors found that former Sheriff Dennis Lewis and current Sheriff Gary Philp approved illegal use of force on passive protestors. The jury also held the City and County liable for its officers’ unconstitutional actions.
Plaintiff Spring Lundberg was thrilled by the decision. “We won a unanimous YES! This was excessive force and the decision will reverberate to law enforcement across the country. This is a hard-won victory for preserving all our civil liberties.”
The jury awarded nominal damages to each plaintiff. Elated activist Sam Neuwirth said, “This is what I wanted. This case has never been about money. It’s about the jury saying they respect people who stand up for their beliefs and that the police can’t do whatever they want.”
Plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Serra agreed, “We were always in it for the principle and not for the money. The police’s application of pepper spray to the eyes of non-violent activists was akin to torture and today’s verdict should help to keep it from ever happening again.”
The activists injured by the sheriffs’ applications of pepper spray sued the Humboldt County Sheriffs' Dept. and Eureka Police in fall of 1997, arriving at the current trial in federal court in San Francisco after two previous trials that ended without verdict.
“Brutalizing peaceful protesters will not be tolerated,” said plaintiff Noel Tendick. “This victory rings in the hearts of any who would peacefully stand up for their beliefs. Onward!”
For immediate release:
April 28, 2005, 5:30pm
Victory for Forest Activists in Pepper Spray Trial
Jury Finds Sheriffs Used Excessive Force
Contacts Heidi Terbrack, (707) 496-7645
Media Office (510) 548-3113
San Francisco--After three days of deliberations, a federal jury returned a verdict finding that Humboldt County Sheriffs used excessive force when they daubed liquid pepper spray into the eyes of forest activists.
The eight activist plaintiffs were arrested in 1997 at three separate protests in Humboldt County as they worked to save the Headwaters Forest from logging.
The unprecedented application of pepper spray on passive, immobile protesters was part of a "get tough policy" implemented by the County as more and more people protested liquidation logging of redwoods in Northern California.
The activists injured by the sheriffs’ applications of pepper spray sued the Humboldt County Sheriffs' Dept. and Eureka Police in 1997, arriving at the current trial in federal court in San Francisco after two previous trials that ended without verdict.
Press packets including video footage and courtroom drawings are available through the media office
For previous news releases see our Press Release Index
Courtroom graphic © 2005 K. Rudin.
Full Court View
Plaintiffs' attorney Bob Bloom questions witness Dave DuBay, former employee of pepper spray manufacturer Defense Technologies and present employee of Taser International, Inc., as defense lawyer Nancy Delaney raises her hand in objection. The plaintiffs and their legal team are in the foreground. The defense legal team is in the left background. The eight jurors are in right background.
K. Rudin's courtroom art page updated 5/11/05 with new graphics
KMUD News Director Estelle Fennell gives a detailed report on the verdict, including interviews with Spring Lundberg, Dennis Cunningham, Humboldt Sheriff's spokesperson Brenda Gainey, and juror Conni Chandler.
Running time is approximately 13 minutes.
For audio files and for help with streaming, downloading and playing audio files please visit our Audio Files index page
Major Newspaper Editorials Agree: Pepper Spray Application to the Eyes with Q-tips is Torture (posted 4/11/05)
A compilation of November 1997 editorials by the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Los Angeles Times shows they were unanimous in condemning as torture and police brutality the actions of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department in this case as shown on the shocking police videos first released to the media and shown on national TV on October 31, 1997, when this lawsuit was first filed.
Click to read.
When Police Play Russian Roulette… makes the case for an immediate moratorium on police use of pepper spray. As the report explains, pepper spray is a chemical weapon that has never been properly tested. With one exception, all the available research into pepper spray raises serious questions about its safety for use on humans. The one study that claims pepper spray is safe for use by law enforcement agents has since been thoroughly discredited. It was conducted in 1991 by former FBI Agent Thomas Ward who pled guilty to accepting $57,500.00 in kickbacks from a pepper spray manufacturer. This report provides a comprehensive overview of all the available literature on pepper spray (as of 2000).
Read the full report (99 KB PDF file)
We are happy to reprint an article from the North Carolina Medical Journal summarizing the medical literature on pepper spray health hazards as of 1999. Because the journal has undergone a change of ownership and management, and its website no longer provides archives of articles published before 2002, we are pleased to republish the article on this site for nonprofit educational purposes under the Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law.
Click here to read Health Hazards of Pepper Spray by C. Gregory Smith, MD, MPH, and Woodhall Stopford, MD, MSPH
A day-by-day report on the trial.
Go to the Trial Log Index Page (Updated May 3, 2005 with the closing arguments by Dennis Cunningham and Tony Serra
Note: We suspended updating the log daily after April 18 due to the press of other duties, including taking the daily trial notes for the legal team.
As an alternative daily report on the trial, we refer you to the reports by Diane M. Batley published by The Eureka Reporter, a commercial print and online newspaper published in Eureka, California, the county seat of Humboldt County. Ms. Batley's reports are linked from our News Media Reports & Commentary Index and Links
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Quotes from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling granting a new trial in this case
the complete 9th Circuit opinion on the court's own website (opens in a new window)
Note: For legalistic reasons, the jury in our current trial is not allowed to hear about the 9th Circuit's clear ruling in our favor or any of the specific findings listed above.
News Archive(most recent first)
Agreement Near to End Case Without Further Appeals (posted 12/8/05)
Plaintiffs' Attorney Fees Amount Motion Filed and Available Online (posted 9/19/05)(hearing date revised 10/8/05)
Defendants Appeal Verdict and Attorney Fees Ruling! (posted 9/15/05)
Judge Grants Attorney Fees Entitlement Motion, Denies Defendants' Post-Trial Motions (8/11/05)
KMUD Radio News Aug. 12, 2005 on attorney fees ruling (8/14/05)
Motion For Entitlement to Attorney's Fees (7/4/05)
Post Trial Motions filed 5/31/05 - Defendants Seek to Overturn Verdict (6/3/05)
See our News and Commentary Index and Links page for a selection of news stories about the verdict.
Also check our Audio Files Index Page for radio news stories and interviews about the case.
Legal documents online
Courtroom Art by K. Rudin
For permission to reproduce and for current courtroom art for media use please call our media contact number: (510) 548-3113
See a page of K. Rudin's courtroom art
Other Reports and Features
Major Newspaper Editorials Agree: Pepper Spray Application to the Eyes with Q-tips is Torture (posted 4/11/05)
When Police Play Russian Roulette: The Case for a Moratorium on Police Use of Pepper Spray" by Lenore Anderson, Jo Hirschmann and Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (posted 5/11/05)
Health Hazards of Pepper Spray (posted 9/2/04)
See our Media Reports and Commentary Links page for more news articles
Note: Older items from this home page have been moved to the Archive Page
Poem from Plaintiff Noel Tendick
Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune, 1997
PEPPER SPRAY TORMENT TO BREAK POLITICAL PROTEST
By CHARLES LEVENDOSKY
Star-Tribune Editorial Page Editor
With chilling deliberateness, a deputy sheriff dips a cotton swab into a cup filled with pepper spray. He approaches 16-year-old Maya who is sitting quietly on the floor with a soft, brown hat on her head. A police officer forces back her head and pries open her right eye. The swab is swept across her lower eyelid. The girl stifles a sob.
They repeat the operation on her left eye. She shakes her head as if to shake off the intense pain.
She could be your daughter, my daughter. She wasn't threatening anyone. She wasn't violent. She had no weapon. Moments before she had been smiling. Now her head is bent as her eyes burn.
This isn't a scene from a South American torture squad, this is Humboldt County, Calif.
The uniforms crouch as they shuffle over to the next protester in the circle. They show no anger. Their actions are cool and purposeful. Someone gave them orders. They are following them.
One grabs Jennifer's head. "Will you release yourself?" he demands. "Don't," she pleads, "please don't." They smear her eyes with pepper spray.
All four women who sit in Congressman Frank Riggs' Eureka office moan in pain. Lisa kicks her feet to trample the pain she feels.
Their eyes are closed tight. They scream out.
Terri yells, "They are torturing American citizens with pepper spray."
Read the rest of this excellent commentary
© 1997 Casper Star-Tribune
"Preserving A Place to Land" (excerpt)
by Britt Bailey © 1999
Note: Britt Bailey, M.A., is Senior Associate with the nonprofit Center for Ethics and Toxics [CETOS]. She teaches Environmental Policy at the College of Marin.
Dismissed as "tree huggers" and "hippies", environmentalists are seen as nuisances to the progression of business deals and promising economic gains. What the "tree huggers" see with their intuitive eyes deserves the light of day. I find it ironic that when people protest against the cutting of the trees, police choose a weapon which blinds them. The very eyes that see the inherent value of a tree are being blinded by those costing out the board feet and putting timber acres into economic equations. To those blinded, the trees are priceless, as is the eyesight of the protesters.
The "pepper" spray is anything but the innocuous chemical a Federal judge recently concluded. Its chemical ingredient, oleoresin capsicum, is a highly noxious liquid that produces profound effects at very small doses. The manufacturers warn not to spray within two feet of the face. Humboldt County California police have ignored this warning and directly applied the liquid to the corners of the protesters eyes. The protesters refused to trade their safety for the key to the handcuffs which hold back the logging trucks from reaching the ancient Headwaters garden.
The public is left with a dialogue debating the use of pepper spray while another tree tumbles to its death. Left out of the conversation is the little known facts about capsicum, such as its mutagenicity, its ability to aggravate the airways in those suffering from asthma, and its possible links to cancer.
Pepper spray is not an irritant, but an inflammatory agent. It swells the mucosal membranes causing extreme pain and temporary blindness. Ask a blind person what they would give for two minutes of perfect eyesight where they could stand under an age-old redwood and look up through the shimmering sunlight and cathedral like shadows dancing through the leaves. Ask someone who is blind what they would give for a two minute look into an old growth forest complete with six foot ferns. Protesters are not merely seeking to conserve resources, they understand the need for the trees’ preservation.
(This is only an excerpt. The complete essay is no longer available on the CETOS website The link opens the CETOS home page in a new browser window; close it after reading to return here.)
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