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Pepper Spray Hearing on 8/24
Monday Aug 23rd, 2004 5:15 PM
Pepper Spray By Q-Tip on Protesters Trial Nears
Final Pre-trial hearing Aug. 24
San Francisco Civil Rights Trial Sept. 7
For immediate release
August 23, 2004

Contacts: Karen Pickett (510) 548-3113;
Law Offices of Dennis Cunningham and Ben Rosenfeld (415) 285-8091
Pepper Spray By Q-Tip on Protesters Trial Nears
Final Pre-trial hearing Aug. 24
San Francisco Civil Rights Trial Sept. 7

San Francisco, Calif.- The question of whether direct application of
liquid pepper spray into the eyes of passive protesters is an
appropriate police tactic will come to trial on Sept. 7. With
implications reaching far beyond the logging protests that spawned
the case, Headwaters Forest Defense v. County of Humboldt et al.
charges use of excessive force by law enforcement in that county.

After the first trial in 1998 ended without a verdict, appeals court
decisions and finally the U.S. Supreme Court have sent the case back
to federal court in San Francisco. After an evidentiary hearing at
3:30 pm on Aug. 24 (courtroom 10, 19th floor), the trial will proceed
on Sept. 7 at the federal courthouse in S.F. at 450 Golden Gate Ave.,
with Judge Susan Illston presiding.

The lawsuit stems from three Headwaters Forest protests in 1997, at
the height of the campaign to save ancient redwoods. Activists had
locked themselves to each other in a circle at sit-in protests in
rural northern California. As Sheriffs' deputies tried to remove
them, they used the unprecedented tactic of application of pepper
spray by Q-tip. When police footage aired on national tv, the
horrified public saw officers force activists' heads back, pry open
their eyes and precisely smear the burning chemical into their eyes.
Most of the activists were young-some were first time protesters. The
activists subsequently filed suit against the Humboldt County
Sheriffs Dept. and Eureka Police. This time, the case will be argued
by the legal team that won the historic 2002 victory in the Judi Bari
v. FBI civil rights case.

S.F. Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker threw the case out in 1998
after a jury deadlock, issuing a "directed verdict", claiming "no
reasonable juror" would decide the activists' rights had been
violated by the tactic Amnesty International called "tantamount to
torture". However, the 1998 jury forewoman said at the time, "If you
can't sit down in a nonviolent way and protest on behalf of your
beliefs without being subjected to the police swabbing your eyes with
pepper spray or some other chemical agentsŠI think that's sort of
going back to the days of the cattle prod and the fire hose."

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals scuttled Walker's finding, ruling in
May 2000 that the plaintiffs had a right to trial by jury. That court
also removed Walker from the case for bias following his attempt to
move the case to the polarized community of Eureka.

In the seven years since the first trial, appeals court decisions
have all favored the plaintiffs, who attempted to settle the case
with Humboldt County, if law enforcement would alter their policy of
using chemical agents on non-violent protesters. Generally, pepper
spray is recognized as a tool of last resort when suspects in custody
are violent or out of control.

For more information, including video images and contacts for
courtroom drawings by court artist K. Rudin, see

Bay Area Coalition for Headwaters (BACH)

2530 San Pablo Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94702
phone: 510 548 3113
email: bach [at]
Listed below are the latest comments about this post.
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Great Editmatt fittWednesday Sep 8th, 2004 11:47 PM
Pepperspray Rally VideoDuff and Kay R.Wednesday Sep 8th, 2004 9:36 PM
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