Pepper spray: Standard practice
New statewide standards would approve
"direct application."

By A. Clay Thompson

THE VIDEO of Eureka police dabbing pepper spray
into the eyes of Earth First! activists sparked
outrage worldwide. This week law enforcement
officials are expected to approve the tactic for use
by police departments across the state.

On Nov. 4, Peace Officers Standards and Training
(POST), a statewide commission of police officers,
sheriffs, and law enforcement experts, will vote on
new crowd-control guidelines that list "direct
application" of pepper spray as a legitimate
technique. If POST approves the new standards,
state law will explicitly allow police to smear pepper
spray onto eyeballs, faces, or other body parts with
rags or cotton swabs.

Critics say the new standards give cops license to

"The horror of what they did to us is bad enough,"
said Earth First! member Noel Tendick, who had the
chemical daubed in his eyes by Humboldt County
sheriff's deputies. "Now it's going to happen over
and over."

Tendick and other North Coast activists filed suit
against Humboldt County sheriffs and Eureka police,
charging them with three incidents of excessive
force. On Oct. 26 federal judge Vaughn Walker
threw the suit out. The plaintiffs plan to appeal.

Since the early 1990s, more than 60 citizens have
died in police custody after being hit with pepper
spray -- prompting scrutiny from Amnesty
International in a recent report on human rights
abuses in America. More than 40 of those deaths
occurred in California.

In response to the televised pepper-spray
swabbings, state senator Mike Thompson (D-St.
Helena) introduced S.B. 1844, a bill requiring
statewide standards for dealing with protesters.
POST began hammering out guidelines months
before Gov. Pete Wilson signed the bill in July.

Among the police officials tapped by the commission
to draw up the guidelines were a pair of bona fide
experts: Capt. Murl Harpham and Sgt. Duane
Frederickson, both of the Eureka Police Department
-- one of the agencies charged in the Earth First!

The new Crowd Management and Civil
Disobedience Guidelines describe tactics for
handling demonstrators and California penal codes
for charging them. Guideline 10 lists "considerations"
and "issues" regarding the "Use of Nonlethal
Chemical Agents," including oleoresin capsicum, or
pepper spray. The "delivery methods" listed for
pepper spray and other chemical weapons are
"direct application, spray, expulsion, pyrotechnics,

The American Civil Liberties Union blasted the POST
guidelines as overbroad and dangerous. ACLU
representatives say pepper spray, which chokes the
respiratory system and burns the eyes and skin,
isn't intended for direct application.

"We have a weapon here that's designed to be
sprayed from fifteen feet away -- a weapon that
causes pain the experts say is like bobbing for
french fries in a vat of hot oil," ACLU attorney John
Crew told us. Crew fears the guidelines may lead
some departments to use the weapon in ways that
are unconstitutional and possibly lethal.

POST says the 25-page manual isn't a policy
mandate for local departments but simply "a
resource for law-enforcement executives."

In an interview with the Bay Guardian, POST
assistant executive director Hal Snow played down
the controversy. "The guidelines do not recommend
direct application," he told us. "A department may
decide it's reasonable. They may also decide it's not
reasonable. All we're saying is, 'you ought to
consider these things.' "

In response to charges that direct application of
pepper spray is cruel and unsafe, Snow said: "The
courts have been very clear that this use of chemical
agents is very much accepted. POST follows the
law. The police follow the law."

Harpham produced and starred in "Dealing with
Active Resisters," a 15-minute video defending his
department's use of pepper spray. In the video,
Harpham complains about the rising cost of
arresting environmental activists who block logging
by chaining themselves to timber equipment,
vehicles, or each other. Pepper spray, according to
the captain, is an alternative to waiting out "locked
down" protesters or cutting their self-imposed

"We tried pain compliance, and that didn't work. Our
position is that we'd rather go to pepper spray than
baton or nunchucks," Harpham told the Bay
Guardian. The captain described how his officers
recently soaked a piece of gauze in pepper spray
and dripped it into the faces of three locked-down
enviros before arresting the protesters. "One held
out six minutes," he said.

"Pepper spray is not reasonable; it is potentially
lethal," said Vernell "Spring" Lundgren, an activist
who received the pepper-spray-in-the-eyes
treatment from members of the Humboldt County
Sheriff's Department. "It is pretrial punishment."

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