Pepper Spray by Q-Tip Trial ends in Jury Deadlock

mistrial was declared in the Pepper Spray by Q-tip trial Sept. 22 after the jurors deadlocked 6-2 in favor of the activist plaintiffs. Eight activists had sued the Humboldt county Sheriffs’ Dept and Eureka Police after the cops used Q-tips to smear pepper spray directly into their eyes during a logging protest in 1997. The police torture was filmed and widely shown on teevee.

A previous trial with a hostile judge had also resulted in a 4-4 deadlock, after which the judge dismissed the case. It took years to wind through the federal appeals process, get a different judge, and schedule a new trial. Meanwhile, using pepper spray as a coercion method (rather than as a subduing tactic) became recognized as standard operating procedure in California for strident civil disobedience such as lock downs.

Lead counsel Dennis Cunningham said the plaintiffs are ready to go back to trial at the earliest opportunity. “We’re not going to let go of the issue.” But he added, “We are really disappointed, of course. That our claim was clear to the great majority but rejected by two people who held out, means we were close, and that is encouraging. We realize how difficult it is for some people to believe that there is a real need for control over what the police are allowed to do. It is a leap for some people, and a leap they are not comfortable making, if they have no direct experience with police abuse.”

Said Noel Tendick, 27, one of the eight plaintiffs, “We had a three-fourths majority, but as we saw with the last election, a majority isn’t always enough to give you victory. Trees are still falling, police are still brutalizing peaceful protesters, so we will pursue this case, and we will do so vigorously.”