No Pepper Spray on Nonviolent Protesters

For immediate release:                                     Sept. 16, 2004

Contact Karen Pickett, 510-548-3113

Plaintiffs' Case Wraps Up in Pepper Spray By Q-tip Trial

Young Pepper Spray-Doused Activists On Stand Thursday; Defense Puts Case On Next Week

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San Francisco, Calif.-The pepper spray by Q-tip trial to determine whether activists' Fourth Amendment rights were violated when law enforcement inserted Q-tips soaked in liquid pepper spray directly into their eyes continues in SF Federal court.

On Wednesday, Sept. 15, the jury heard from five of the young activists who were subjected to the pepper spray by Q-tip applications as they were locked to each other in sit-in actions in 1997. Their emotional and dramatic testimony, supported by police videotape footage shown in the courtroom, followed questioning of police officers who carried out the coercive procedure that Amnesty International calls "tantamount to torture". The activists recounted their temporary blindness, trauma and extreme pain as they told of panic attacks and nightmares that stayed with them long after the incidents.

The next witnesses on the stand will include the two named defendants:

  • Chief Deputy (now Sheriff) Gary Philp of the Humboldt County Sheriffs Dept. (HCSD) who researched pepper spray and gave the order to his special response team to apply pepper spray in this totally unprecedented manner, and
  • Sheriff Dennis Lewis who was then head policy maker for the HCSD and also approved the procedure.

On Monday, the Defense case is expected to open with more witnesses and continue through Wednesday, Sept. 22, when it will then go to the jury of four women and four men, who have been listening to testimony since Sept. 8.

The lawsuit stems from three Headwaters Forest protests in 1997, at the height of the campaign to save ancient redwoods. Activists had locked themselves to each other at sit-in protests in rural northern California. To remove them, Sheriffs' deputies used the unheard-of tactic of application of pepper spray by Q-tip. The activists filed suit, and the first trial in 1998 ended in a hung jury. After appeals in higher courts, the case is being retried.

Court is in session 8:30 3:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday before Judge Susan Illston, in Courtroom 10, 19th floor of the Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco.


Webmaster's update: Plaintiffs' case did not finish as expected on 9/16. Defendant Philp was still on the witness stand when court recessed for the weekend at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, and he will be back on the stand Monday, Sept. 20 at 8:30 a.m.  Former Sheriff Lewis will testify after Philp as the final plaintiffs' witness. Then the defense will call about five additional witnesses who were not already called by plaintiffs. As of  Friday afternoon, Sept. 17, we expect closing arguments on Wednesday, followed by jury instructions and deliberations.

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