California Logging Protesters Win Lawsuit SAN FRANCISCO - Law enforcement officers from two northern California counties were found liable Thursday for using excessive force by swabbing pepper spray in the eyes of logging protesters in 1997. A jury awarded eight plaintiffs $1 each.
It was the third trial in the case; the first two ended in deadlocked juries in 1998 and 2004.
The plaintiffs laughed and hugged outside the courtroom — and applauded when jurors left their chambers.
"They did the right thing," said Terri Slanetz, a 42-year-old naturalist from Oakland. "We've been trying all along to get a statement that this was illegal. It's a positive step toward people treating each other decently."
The protesters claim their civil rights were violated when Humboldt County sheriff's deputies and Eureka police officers swabbed pepper spray directly in their eyes during the 1997 protest.
The protesters argued the pepper spray was used to illegally punish and intimidate them for chaining themselves together and making it difficult for authorities to arrest them.
Attorneys said the verdict would prevent the use of pepper spray on nonviolent protesters.
"The plaintiffs were never in it for the money. They were in it for the principle," attorney Tony Serra said.
The defendants in the case were Humboldt County, the city of Eureka, retired county Sheriff Dennis Lewis and current Sheriff Gary Philp, who was chief deputy sheriff at the time of the protest.
"It's nice to have someone come in with some kind of resolution of the case," Philp said. "The nominal damages show that the jury thought no one got hurt."
The protests took place at the Eureka office of then-Rep. Frank Riggs, and at the Scotia headquarters of the Pacific Lumber Co.