No Pepper Spray on Nonviolent Protesters


For immediate release
April 12, 2005

Trial Starts With Jury Selection On April 12

Contacts:  Karen Pickett, Josh Brown 510-548-3113

San Francisco, Calif.--A jury will decide whether direct application by Q-tip of liquid pepper spray into the eyes of passive protesters is "excessive force"and a violation of Constitutional rights in a case that goes to trial on April 12, 2005.  Jury selection will be Tuesday, and opening arguments will be on Wednesday April 13 before the Hon. Susan Illston at the Federal Courthouse (450 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, courtroom 10, 19th floor). Court schedule is Mon.-Thurs., 8:30 am -1:30 pm.

A press conference with the eight plaintiffs and their legal team will be held before court at 8 a.m. on Wednesday April 13 on the front steps of the courthouse. Attorneys and plaintiffs will also be available for media interviews following Wednesday's court session at 1:30.

When Humboldt County sheriff's deputies thrust pepper spray soaked Q-tips directly into the eyes of activists at sit-in protests calling for the protection of the ancient redwoods of Headwaters Forest in northern California, Amnesty International condemned it as "tantamount to torture." SF Chronicle and Examiner editorials agreed. The activists sued.

After the first trial in 1998 ended without a verdict, the original judge-since removed for bias-threw the case out.  After years of appeals as high as the U.S. Supreme Court, the case was reinstated and sent back for a new trial before a new judge.  The activists have attempted to settle the case with Humboldt County if the county would revisit their use-of-force policy.

At the second trial in September 2004, 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. When the second trial ended in a jury split 6-2 in favor of the activists, jury foreman Dr. E.D. Feigenbaum said in a radio interview, "I can't see how anyone could look at [the police video footage of the incidents] and not see excessive force.  But the two people [jurors] who chose to be opposite the majority were quite adamant about their position: that these people broke the law, by trespassing, and whatever happened to them, they deserved."

Another juror, Helen Moyot said, "I am appalled and dismayed that this [lack of verdict] happened. I do hope there is a third trial and the plaintiffs win."

After opening statements, the first witnesses on the stand will be three of the eight plaintiffs, followed by two law enforcement officers.

The activists are represented by the legal team that won the unprecedented victory against the FBI in the civil rights case Judi Bari vs. FBI including Dennis Cunningham and J. Tony Serra.

Video images, legal documents, and other background and links available at Beta cam video news releases and courtroom drawings by court artist K. Rudin are available through the contact phone number. Interviews with jurors from the Sept. 2004 trial can be arranged through media contact.


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