[Homestead] Police State vilest Police tactics

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Wed Sep 22 14:59:10 EDT 2004

Inflicting permanent eye-damage on protesters.  Police often need 
coercive measures, but it sure as hell doesn't include daubing a 
pepper-salve in anyone's eyes to cause permanent damage, even blindness.

 The New York Times
September 22, 2004
Pepper-Spray Case Goes to Jury in California

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 21 - Maya Portugal says the majestic redwood trees 
of Northern California changed her forever. Her love for the sweeping 
forest canopies and lush old-growth groves has taken her from child 
explorer to teenage protester to adult plaintiff in a seven-year legal 
battle between the law enforcement officials of rural Humboldt County 
and environmentalists opposed to logging the redwoods.

"I grew up in the woods," she said. "Driving through Humboldt now you 
can see all the clear-cuts. I wanted to do something so my kids wouldn't 
have to see what I saw."

That is how Ms. Portugal, 22, explained to jurors in federal court here 
what moved her, at the age of 16, to join protests against logging of 
the trees. She is one of eight anti-logging activists, known to their 
colleagues as the Pepper Spray 8, who are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit 
against the City of Eureka and Humboldt County authorities.

The lawsuit, sent to the jury in United States District Court for 
Northern California on Tuesday, asserts that a county policy that allows 
the authorities to smear pepper spray ointment on the eyes of protesters 
constitutes an unnecessary and excessive use of force, tantamount to 

The lawsuit stems from three incidents in 1997 when pepper spray was 
daubed in the eyes of Ms. Portugal and at least seven others after they 
refused to heed police orders to disperse. Closing arguments in the 
trial were presented Tuesday. Judge Susan Illston instructed the eight 
jurors that a unanimous verdict was necessary to find for the 
protesters, who seek unspecified damages.

"It burned really bad," Ms. Portugal testified last week. "I felt 
scared. I felt like I was being violated. I felt like the cops were out 
of control."

The Humboldt authorities testified Monday that pepper spray was 
considered the safest way to make the arrests. The question of whether 
the police used unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment 
is at the heart of the trial.

The three incidents attracted attention far beyond Humboldt in part 
because television news programs broadcast the protests, including 
images of sheriff's deputies daubing the eyes of passive protesters with 
cotton swabs soaked with pepper spray.

Since then the incidents have been the subject of numerous lawsuits 
resulting in a jury deadlock, a mistrial, a series of appellate court 
procedures, the removal of a judge and a United States Supreme Court 
ruling remanding the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the 
Ninth Circuit, instructing it to consider whether the sheriffs were 
immune from suit. The Ninth Circuit said the sheriffs had no immunity 
and ordered the new trial, now under way.

Lawyers for the protesters include J. Tony Serra, who has characterized 
the case as "a political trial." Mr. Serra and the others argue that the 
police acted maliciously, using unreasonable force to intentionally 
inflict pain, frighten the protesters and silence the anti-logging 
movement. "When people are nonviolent they do not deserve to be treated 
like wild beasts," he said in closing.

In testimony last week, protesters told the jury that the chemical 
caused searing eye pain, gagging, dizziness, hyperventilation and 
headaches that in some cases lasted days. To this day, protesters said, 
they fear the police and suffer aftereffects, including impaired vision 
and recurring growths on their eyelids.

But lawyers for the defendants - Humboldt County, the City of Eureka and 
local law enforcement officials - argued that the use of pepper spray 
came in response to "organized lawlessness" by protesters, including the 
group Earth First, which helped arrange sit-ins and rallies.

The demonstrators were directing their efforts at the Pacific Lumber 
Company and the Texas investor Charles E. Hurwitz, chief executive of 
Pacific Lumber's parent company, Maxxam, and their negotiations with the 
state and federal governments that resulted in the so-called Headwaters 
deal. It was created to preserve 10,000 acres of redwoods but upset many 
environmentalists who felt it did not go far enough.

Nancy Delaney, a Eureka lawyer representing the defendants, said, "We 
believe the use of force was reasonable and the safest way for officers 
to discharge their lawful duty."

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