No Pepper Spray on Nonviolent Protesters
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Eve-Of-Trial Media Compilation

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KTVU.com News / Bay City News 9/7/04

Humboldt Pepper Spray Retrial Returns To Court

Posted 9:55 am PDT September 7, 2004

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Seven years after it was filed, a lawsuit over the use of pepper spray on the eyes of anti-logging protesters is scheduled for a new trial before a new judge in federal court in San Francisco this week.

Jury selection in the court of U.S. District Judge Susan Illston is set to start Wednesday. Opening statements are slated for Thursday.

Eight protesters claim Humboldt County sheriff's deputies used unconstitutional excessive force and caused extreme pain when they allegedly smeared pepper spray on the activists' eyes during protests of Pacific Lumber Co.'s logging of ancient redwoods in 1997.

The case drew national attention when videotapes of the alleged smearing of liquid spray were aired on national television in 1997.

The first trial in the court of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in 1998 ended in a mistrial when the jury could not agree on a verdict.

Over the next six years, various aspects of the case were appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and the U.S. Supreme Court three times.

Illston was assigned to the case after the plaintiffs successfully appealed to the circuit court for a different judge on the ground that Walker did not appear to be impartial.

The plaintiffs' lead attorney in the retrial will be San Francisco lawyer Tony Serra, who alleged when he stepped into the case last year that applying the liquid spray amounted to torture.

Serra said then, "This case will be vigorously prosecuted and it will be a political trial and I'm proud of it."

The defendants in the case are Humboldt County; retired Sheriff Dennis Lewis; former Chief Deputy Sheriff Gary Philp, who is now the sheriff; and the city of Eureka.

They claim the use of pepper spray was the safest way to end the protests, in which demonstrators had locked their arms together in metal cylinders.

Their lawyer, Nancy Delaney, told Illston during a pretrial hearing last month, "This is a policy that was adopted to avoid people being seriously injured."

The three protests were carried out at Pacific Lumber Co.'s headquarters in Scotia, in a redwood forest and in the Eureka office of former Congressman Frank Riggs in September and October 1997.

Copyright 2004 by Bay City News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Read the story from KTVU.com site at:
http://www.ktvu.com/news/3710958/detail.html


The Press Democrat 9/7/04

1998 Pepper Spray Case Retrial Set

Published on September 7, 2004,  Page B1

Mike Geniella, The Press Democrat

Federal jurors will be selected this week to hear testimony in a long-awaited retrial of a contentious civil rights case involving police use of pepper spray on North Coast protesters.

The case, which emerged out of political turmoil in the 1990s surrounding logging of ancient redwoods in Humboldt County, originally was tried in 1998 in a San Francisco federal court.

But that federal jury could not reach a verdict, splitting 4-4 on whether Humboldt County law enforcement officers were guilty of excessive force when they decided to dab Q-tips into liquid pepper spray and run them around the eyelids of eight protesters.

Authorities contended they turned to the controversial tactic after demonstrators began locking their arms together in metal sleeves to keep officers from removing them from a North Coast congressman's office.

A subsequent decision by trial Judge Vaughn Walker to toss out the case sparked a six-year legal battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In the end the high court refused to overturn a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rulings that removed Walker from the case. The case was then set for retrial.

Federal Judge Susan Illston was appointed to preside over the retrial, which is scheduled to begin Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco and run more than eight days.

Plaintiff Lisa Sanderson-Fox, now 37, said she's delighted the case will finally be heard by a second federal jury.

``It's a long time coming, but I'm really glad we stuck with it,'' said Sanderson-Fox. She recently returned to California after spending four years practicing herbal medicine in southern Mexico.

Sanderson-Fox said in an era of ``growing restraints on political activism, I think it's really important to focus on the use of force by law enforcement.''

Eureka attorney Nancy Delaney represents former Humboldt County Sheriff Dennis Lewis and current Sheriff Gary Philp in the lawsuit. Delaney said she doesn't believe any jury can return a unanimous verdict in favor of the protesters.

``We remain confident that we can show the use of pepper spray was an appropriate tactic by officers who were attempting to avoid injury to the protesters,'' Delaney said.

She noted that local authorities decided to use pepper spray because they feared protesters might be injured if officers continued a practice of using power saws to cut through the metal sleeves.

The case dates back to a contentious 1997 protest inside former North Coast Rep. Frank Rigg's Eureka office.

To protest the logging of old-growth redwoods at the Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County, the eight plaintiffs locked themselves together and refused to leave the congressional office.

Video clips of law enforcement officers applying a liquid version of pepper spray around the eyelids of the protesters created a national uproar over the tactic.

The plaintiffs have a new legal team, led by activist lawyers Dennis Cunningham, J. Tony Serra and Bob Bloom. Two years ago, the team won a $4 million verdict in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the late Earth First organizer Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney against the FBI and Oakland police as the result of an unsolved car bombing in 1990, in which both activists were injured.

Serra has vowed to turn the retrial into a ``political trial.''

``I'm joining this case in smoldering anger because applying the noxious pepper spray was torture,'' Serra said. ``This case will be vigorously prosecuted, and it will be a political trial, and I'm proud of it.''

Attorneys for Humboldt County law enforcement officials will focus on how the decision to use pepper spray was reached.

``I'm confident that jurors, once they know the facts, will understand that it was a bid to lessen the chance of harm by law enforcement authorities who had the best interests of protesters in mind,'' Delaney said.

2004- The Press Democrat

To view the article on the Press Democrat site go to www.pressdemocrat.com and enter 
"1998 PEPPER SPRAY CASE RETRIAL SET" in the Search Articles box near the top of the left column.


San Jose Mercury News 9/7/04 

Pepper spray lawsuit returns for new trial 

by Mercury News wire services

Seven years after it was filed, a lawsuit over the use of pepper spray on the eyes of anti-logging protesters is scheduled for a new trial before a new judge in federal court in San Francisco this week.

Jury selection in the court of U.S. District Judge Susan Illston is set to start Wednesday. Opening statements are set for Thursday.

Eight protesters claim Humboldt County sheriff's deputies used unconstitutional excessive force and caused extreme pain when they smeared pepper spray on the activists' eyes during protests of Pacific Lumber Co.'s logging of ancient redwoods in 1997.

The case drew national attention when videotapes of the alleged smearing of liquid spray were aired on national television in 1997.

The first trial in the court of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in 1998 ended in a mistrial when the jury could not agree on a verdict.

During the next six years, various aspects of the case were appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and the U.S. Supreme Court three times.

Illston was assigned to the case after the plaintiffs successfully appealed to the circuit court for a different judge on the ground that Walker did not appear to be impartial.

The plaintiffs' lead attorney in the retrial will be San Francisco lawyer Tony Serra, who alleged when he stepped into the case last year that applying the liquid spray amounted to torture.

The defendants in the case are Humboldt County; retired Sheriff Dennis Lewis; former Chief Deputy Sheriff Gary Philp, who is now the sheriff; and the city of Eureka.

They claim the use of pepper spray was the safest way to end the protests, in which demonstrators had locked their arms together in metal cylinders.

Read the story on the Mercury News site
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/9598357.htm


TruthOut 9/7/04

   Torture in the Redwoods
    By Kelpie Wilson
    t r u t h o u t | Report

    Tuesday 07 September 2004

    This week, in San Francisco, a group of young forest activists will finally get their day in court. In 1997 they were subjected to torture at the hands of police and Pacific Lumber goons. The weapon of torture was the chemical Oleoresin Capsicum, known as pepper spray, swabbed into their eyes with a Q-tip.

    In three separate incidents that fall, activists as young as 16 were assaulted as they were chained and helpless. Here is what happened in the words of activist Spring Lundberg:

"Humboldt County Sheriff deputies grabbed me by the head and dragged a Q-tip drenched in pepper spray across my eyes. I was completely nonviolent that day, rooted to the floor of Pacific Lumber's lobby like one of the ancient redwoods we defend. PL employees, mingling with law enforcement, told us that we 'had an education coming.' In the lobby of company headquarters in a company town in northern California, they covered the windows with butcher paper so no one could see what they did to us. But the world saw into that room when police videotape of the incident and two others aired on television internationally."

    Amnesty International characterized the incidents as "tantamount to torture." The activists sued Humboldt County and the City of Eureka for use of excessive force and the first trial ended in 1998 with a hung jury. The judge attempted to dismiss the case, but appeals court decisions and finally the US Supreme Court have sent the trial back to federal court in San Francisco.

    The legal team that won the unprecedented 2002 victory in the civil rights case Judi Bari vs. FBI will argue the case. Attorney J. Tony Serra said, "I'm joining this case in smoldering anger because applying the noxious pepper spray was torture. This case will be vigorously prosecuted and it will be a political trial, and I'm proud of it."
Clockwise from left, Banka Schneider, Terri Slanetz, Lisa Sanderson-Fox and Maya Portugal locked together around a stump in the Eureka office of then-Congressman Frank Riggs just before they are tortured with pepper spray. (Note: caption corrected by NoPepperspray webmaster)

    The case has national implications. Police use of pepper spray has escalated since the early 1990's. Originally introduced for use in subduing violent, out of control detainees, police and prison guards are increasingly using it as pure punishment for prisoners whose race, social class or political beliefs they don't like.

    Manufacturers say it can be safely used as a spray from fifteen feet away, but cops are spraying people directly in the face with it, soaking their clothes in it and dripping it into their eyes. Experts say it causes pain "like bobbing for fries in a vat of hot oil."

    As many as 35 people have died in California after being pepper-sprayed, according to the ACLU. Though pepper spray alone has not been known to kill, in combination with other health conditions it can be deadly. For instance, some pepper-sprayed victims with asthma or bronchitis have died from asphyxiation.

    Plaintiffs had attempted to settle the case with Humboldt County, asking only that law enforcement change their policy of using chemical agents on non-violent protesters, but the county refused to settle.

    One has to ask why an impoverished, rural, northern California county would be willing to go to the mat on this issue and spend potentially millions of dollars in legal fees. I asked Alicia Littletree, a member of the plaintiff's legal team this question. Her short answer was: "It's law enforcement closing ranks. They always do this in cases of excessive force."

    But there is also the reality of the Redwood Empire. Humboldt County and its law enforcement apparatus have traditionally been at the service of Big Timber.

    Littletree outlined events during the summer of 1997 that led to the escalation of violence against the protesters: "The Headwaters deal was about to be finalized and Hurwitz didn't need the protesters to drive up the price anymore. The giant rally at Carlotta where 3,000 people were arrested really angered the sheriffs."

    The Headwaters deal paid a half billion taxpayer dollars to Charles Hurwitz of Pacific Lumber Company in exchange for about 7,500 acres of redwood forest. PL also got a license to log the rest of their holdings with impunity. Environmentalists were unhappy with the deal.

    Littletree also described an incident that took place just a month before the pepper spray assaults that may be connected in some sick way. Charles Hurwitz was at Pacific Lumber headquarters (normally the Texas financier lurks around his Maxxam headquarters in Houston) for discussions about the Headwaters deal. Emerging from a luncheon meeting, he was greeted by a pie thrower who made contact. Sheriff Lewis, mastermind of the pepper spray strategy, was standing right next to him when it happened.

    And so we can make sense of the PL employee's statement to activists locked down in their office a month later that the young people "had an education coming." Banana cream in the eyes would be repaid by fire in the eyes.

    In 1998, after the first trial failed to produce a verdict, Humboldt County officials went to POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training), a statewide commission of police officers, to lobby for new standards that would approve the use of pepper spray to torture non-violent protestors. The standards redefined "active" and "passive" resistance to make lock downs a form of active resistance to arrest that qualifies for pepper spray compliance.

    In 2002, Bush asked government lawyers for a ruling that set his administration above the rule of law and the Geneva Convention on torture. Just like George Bush, the officials of Humboldt County California insist that torture is an indispensable weapon in their fight against terrorism - in this case, the so-called eco-terrorism of a bunch of teenagers who had the audacity to dump a redwood stump in the middle of corporate offices and chain themselves to it.

    The violent assaults against protesters can be construed as proof that what they do is effective. A recent study reported in New Scientist (Aug. 28, 2004) provides corroboration. Jon Agnone, a sociologist at the University Washington analyzed the U.S. green movement from 1960 to 1994 and found that protest was highly effective at forcing new environmental laws. Each protest raised the number of pro-environment bills passed by 2.2 per cent. The most effective tool was disruption. "If you make a big enough disturbance then people have to recognize what you are doing," Agnone said.

    But the right to dissent and to petition the government is under sustained attack.

    Maya Portugal, a plaintiff who was 16 years old when she was subjected to the pepper spray swabbing said, "Since we filed this case, the civil rights of political activists have only eroded more - with the U.S. Patriot Act, a militarized police presence at political conventions and trade talks - and that makes it all the more important for those of us trying to have a public voice to stand up and protect our health and our rights."

    One of my favorite bumper stickers from the Pacific Northwest timber wars is this one: "Earth First! - America's Favorite Speed Bumps." It was produced by loggers and it's really not funny, especially if you have been almost run over by a bulldozer or a logging truck, but I like it because it is so revealing.

    The corporate growth machine is ripping through planetary resources like a Hummer on high-octane gas. Sometimes speed bumps are the only thing that slows them down.

Copyright 2004 by TruthOut.org

Read this story on the truthout site at http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/090704A.shtml


Democracy Now! 9/8/04

Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! national radio/TV news program for Wednesday Sept. 8 ran an excellent 10 min. segment on the case, including phone interviews with lead counsel Dennis Cunningham and plaintiff Spring Lundberg. 

From the page linked below you can watch or listen to the segment online or read a full transcript

Trial Set to Begin Over Use of Pepper Spray-Soaked Cotton Swabs on Non-Violent Protesters in 1997

Seven years after Humboldt County police officers applied cotton swabs soaked in pepper spray to the eyes of activists engaged in non-violent protests, a trial beings today charging the tactic was an excessive use of force that amounted to torture. We play an excerpt of the police video and speak with the lead counsel on the case and one of the plaintiffs who was 17 years-old at the time of the incident.

Listen/Watch/Read
http//www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/09/08/1422252  


Los Angeles Times 9/8/04

Trial to Begin Over 1997 Use of Pepper Spray

Sheriff's deputies are accused of excessive force during Humboldt County protest.

By Lee Romney
Times Staff Writer

September 8, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO Seven years after Humboldt County sheriff's deputies applied pepper spray-soaked cotton swabs to the eyes of passive anti-logging protesters, a trial begins today in federal court here alleging the technique was an excessive use of force that amounted to torture.

Video footage of deputies daubing the liquid onto the eyes of seated protesters who had linked their arms within metal cylinders attracted national attention. Images also showed deputies following up with close-range bursts of spray and refusing water to the writhing protesters unless they unlatched themselves. The manufacturer warned users against spraying from less than three feet away.

The trial is expected to be short but dramatic. Among the attorneys for the protesters is flamboyant Bay Area hippie legend J. Tony Serra, who has promised "a political trial," complete with spirited demonstrations outside the courthouse.

The showdown harks back to the most heated days of California's North Coast timber wars. Demonstrations by the environmental group Earth First! against Pacific Lumber Co. and its logging of ancient redwoods in the Headwaters Forest escalated throughout the 1990s.

Protesters on Pacific Lumber land and other private property had begun linking arms using lock-down devices known as "black bears." In response, officers on several hundred occasions had separated them by cutting through the devices with hand-held electric grinders.

But in three 1997 demonstrations, officers turned to the direct application of pepper spray to the corners of the demonstrators' closed eyes. It marked the first known use of the substance against restrained protesters in the country.

"It is a crossing of the line to use summary punishment, to use intimidation of the whole movement by inflicting pain on a few members when they'd been grinding them out with no pain, no torment, for years," said Dennis Cunningham, Serra's co-counsel. "They were trying to blunt the movement and defeat it."

Lawyers for the defendants Humboldt County, the city of Eureka and current and former sheriff's officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But they have previously argued that applying the spray was the safest way to end the protests.

They have also argued that their clients are entitled to immunity granted in many instances to law enforcement officials acting in the line of duty. The jury expected to be chosen today will be the second to hear the protesters' lawsuit. After a jury deadlocked in 1998, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declared a mistrial, then reversed himself and dismissed the case in favor of the defendants.

He was overturned on appeal and the case was scheduled for retrial. Walker then sought to have the case moved to Eureka. Plaintiffs appealed again, arguing that they were not likely to get a fair trial there and that Walker was biased. In a rare move, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals removed Walker from the case, saying his actions revealed "an appearance of an absence of impartiality."

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to reverse that decision, clearing the way for today's trial.

Civil libertarians hope the trial will send a strong message that pepper spray should not be used on nonviolent protesters.

Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

Read this story from the LA Times website 
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-pepper8sep08,1,1914376.story?coll=la-headlines-california


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