A federal retrial began in San Francisco today over police use of pepper spray on nonviolent demonstrators. In the fall of 1997, images were broadcast nationwide of Humboldt County sheriff's deputies and Eureka police officers daubing pepper spray into the eyes of young demonstrators. The demonstrators were linked with steel pipes in opposition over increased logging that happened a decade ago by Pacific Lumber Company. The images of the flailing demonstrators shocked people across the country. The initial trial ended with a deadlocked jury. The issue remains whether the police's use of pepper spray was abusive and illegal or legitimate police activity. Law enforcement looked for alternate ways to force the protesters to unlock their hands and arms from the pipes, instead of cutting the pipes with power tools. They decided on using the pepper spray.
The eight protesters who filed the lawsuit argue the pepper spray was used against them for chaining themselves together, making it hard for the police to arrest them. Dennis Cunningham, the protesters' attorney, argued during opening statements, "There was no need to inflict this pain and suffering on these young people who were standing up for what they believe." Defense attorney Nancy Delaney argued in her opener, "The substance, which is claimed to be so odious in this case, can be purchased over the counter at Longs Drugs by an 18-year-old. It posed no significant risk of injury whatsoever." She also said none of the protesters had any lasting health problems from the incident. Cunningham said he would prove that the "sheriff's department was aligned with the timber company," and that law enforcement officials had grown frustrated with the annual demonstrations against Pacific Lumber Company.
We will stay tuned to the outcome of this trial.