[Homestead] Police State vilest Police tactics
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
By CAROLYN MARSHALL
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
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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