>Published Tuesday, August 25, 1998, in the San Jose Mercury News
>Pepper spray case mulled
>Deliberations go on in trial of officers
>SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- After a two-week trial featuring tearful activists in
>long hair and sandals, a federal jury began deciding Monday whether it's
>unreasonable for police to douse pepper spray in the eyes of demonstrators.
>"Strike a blow for liberty that will ring across this nation," their
>lawyer, Macon Cowles, urged jurors in closing arguments on Friday.
>Jurors adjourned Monday after meeting about five hours. Deliberations were
>expected to resume at 8:30 a.m. today.
>Cowles accused Humboldt County officers of imposing "punishment for
>thought" and subjecting protesters to "the sense that your humanity is
>being ripped from you" by swabbing pepper spray directly onto their eyes to
>break up their logging protests.
>But county attorney Nancy Delaney reminded jurors that despite the screams
>heard on police videotapes that were broadcast nationally, none of the
>protesters required medical attention.
>The nine environmentalists sipped water out of recycled drinking glasses
>between turns on the witness stand. The defense, wearing the usual suits
>and ties, opted for styrofoam cups.
>The plaintiffs described the fear and pain suffered last year when police
>officers and sheriff's deputies held their hair and heads, forced open
>their eyes and swiped them with cotton swabs.
>"I felt like it wasn't going to stop, that they were going to keep hurting
>us," testified Maya Portugal, who was 15 when she and her comrades locked
>themselves around a tree stump in the office of Rep. Frank Riggs.
>But law enforcement officers, increasingly frustrated by the
>environmentalists' tactics, said pepper spray is safer than cutting them
>out of the thick, metal sleeves they lock themselves into to delay logging
>The protesters have asked for unspecified damages. U.S. District Judge
>Vaughn Walker told the jury of six women and two men that in deciding
>whether the force was excessive they should measure it against "the force
>that a reasonable and prudent law enforcement officer would use under the
>The case drew attention after video footage of protests in Riggs' office
>and at two Pacific Lumber Co. sites was shown on national television.
>Police in the area routinely record their confrontations with
>In each incident, protesters used "black bears," two elbow-length,
>quarter-inch-thick pieces of pipe welded together at a 90-degree angle, to
>lock themselves to each other and equipment. They insert their arms into
>the pipes and lock their hands to a pin inside.
>"Lock-down devices are used to delay and frustrate the efforts of law
>enforcement officers to remove and take into custody activists who are
>intentionally violating the law," the county's lawyers said.
>But the plaintiffs' attorneys said protesters simply tried "to harmlessly
>delay logging operations."
>"It's not trying to make anyone's day harder," said Portugal, one of four
>protesters who took over the Eureka office of Riggs, a Republican and an
>outspoken logging advocate whose district includes the Headwaters Forest in
>Police officers and deputies testified that they have been forced to spend
>an enormous amount of time and energy removing demonstrators from "black
>bears" and other increasingly sophisticated devices.
>Sheriff Dennis Lewis, who said he approved the direct applications of
>pepper spray to protect both police and protesters, painted a picture of a
>78-member force overwhelmed by the demonstrations.
>Several deputies, who have had to use heavy-duty electric grinders to cut
>through the "black bears" in the past, testified that a major mishap was
>inevitable unless they use more benign methods.
David M. Walsh
P.O. Box 903
Redway, CA 95560
Office and Fax(707) 923-3015
Home (707) 986-1644
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