Headwaters Protesters Pepper Spray Case Returns to Court

The case of eight Earth First! protesters, whose eyes Humboldt County law enforcement officers swabbed with pepper spray, returns to court in San Francisco this week. The first trial ended with jurors deadlocked 6-2 in favor of the protesters, who had staged a sit-in “in the Eureka office of Representative Frank Riggs (R-California) on October 16th” (1997) to protest logging in the Headwaters Forest.

National guidelines governing the use of pepper spray specify that it should not be discharged into the eyes at distances less than two feet, should not be used on people in restraints and should not be used as punishment, the suit said.

At issue is whether the use of “a chemical weapon” under these sorts of circumstances constitutes a reasonable use of force. “‘What we’re trying to do is deal with the situation with a minimum of force and a minimum of hazard,’ [Sheriff Dennis] Lewis told reporters.” The protesters had linked arms inside metal sleeves; officers said using the pepper spray was safer than trying to cut the metal sleeves.

Jury selection is scheduled for Tuesday, April 12, 2005, and is expected to take one day. The trial is expected to begin the following day.

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