News: Political Irritants

Cincinnati cops still spraying peaceful protesters

 
Matt Borgerding


Anti-war protesters were vocal but nonviolent during George Bush's visit to Union Terminal. But police used chemical irritant on at least three protesters.



The Cincinnati Police Department has reformed its policies on the use of force, according to a report given City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee last week.

But the changes described in "Second Status Report to the Independent Monitor" bear little resemblance to officers' behavior as recently as Oct. 7, according to some witnesses. They describe cops spraying peaceful protesters with chemical irritant — at least one of them already in handcuffs — and refusing medical assistance afterward, all in violation of the supposed reforms.

The police department's report details steps taken to comply with an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department. The reforms address allegations of improper use of force by police — the issue that, along with allegations of racism in the department, led to the uprising in Over-the-Rhine last year.

'Trying to use my voice'
When police officers use Mace, they're supposed to help the suspect once he's under control.

"The CPD will revise and augment its chemical spray policy to require that, absent exceptional circumstances, officers will offer to decontaminate every sprayed subject within 20 minutes of the application of the spray," the agreement with the Justice Department says.

The revised procedure was taught to the rank and file through the "structured roll call training program," according to the report released last week. Whenever a new procedure is issued, every officer has to sign a form saying they've reviewed it, according to Lt. Kurt Byrd of the Cincinnati Police Department.

But several people arrested Oct. 7 say police failed to decontaminate the people they had sprayed, refusing to give them water.

"They locked me in the paddy wagon and told me to be quiet," says Luke Schmitz.

Schmitz says several hours passed before he was taken to the Hamilton County Justice Center. Police never offered to decontaminate his eyes, he says. Other people sprayed by police, placed in a van with him, received similar treatment, according to Schmitz.

"They were asking for water and stuff to get their eyes cleaned," he says.

The officers kept telling them "later on," Schmitz says.

The arrests came during President Bush's speech threatening war against Iraq. Byrd, who was on duty that night, says he can't say whether anyone asked for water for their eyes, but he never heard anyone ask.

Some of the blame for the suspects' discomfort belongs to their fellow protesters, Byrd says. No one, including police, could leave the Union Terminal parking lot for 45 minutes to an hour after the event, he says.

"The protesters blocked the exit to the driveway," Byrd says.

For safety reasons, police didn't move the protesters they had arrested, he says.

"You had a crowd that was not sympathetic to the police," Byrd says.

Schmitz says police had no reason to spray him. He says he was on his stomach when he was arrested for disorderly conduct and obstructing official business.

"I was trying to be as motionless as I could," he says. "In my mind, I thought I was doing a non-violent protest. They could have just arrested me."

Byrd, however, recalls the arrest differently.

"When they tried to pick him up, he was moving about, resisting being handcuffed," Byrd says.

Police try to use the least possible amount of force on someone who is resisting arrest, he says.

"You have to get him handcuffed somehow," Byrd says.

But Schmitz wasn't charged with resisting arrest.

Working out West, Schmitz had returned for a visit to Cincinnati.

"I had just been in Flagstaff and George Bush was there, too, and it was like he was fucking following me," Schmitz says.

In the end, Schmitz pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and prosecutors dropped the other charge. He was fined $30 and court costs.

"I was just trying to use my voice, just to help prove not all Americans are behind indiscriminate bombings of other countries," he says.

Police also sprayed Terry Crum at the anti-war rally. Crum says he was standing next to a woman who was leading a chant, calling for police to release someone. The next thing he knew, Crum says, officers snatched the woman, who had been holding onto his arm, and were arresting her.

"These cops are pushing up against my chest right on me and they started saying, 'Do you want to get arrested?' " he says. "I was still more or less in shock for them jumping on that girl. I tried to walk away."

Five or six officers grabbed Crum, restrained him and sprayed him with chemical irritant, he says.

"I'm the enemy," he says. "That's why he sprayed me."

Sexual interrogation
The city's agreement with the Justice Department deals with the use of chemical irritant on prisoners who have already been restrained. In this regard, too, the police claim to be in compliance.

"The CPD will revise and augment its chemical spray policy to provide that chemical spray may be used on a restrained individual only when, absent the use of spray, the subject or another person is likely to suffer injury or escape," the agreement says.

Crum says he was standing still when he was sprayed and wasn't trying to escape or injure himself or others.

The report given the Law and Public Safety Committee listed the incidents between July 12 and Oct. 12 in which police used chemical irritant on restrained suspects. Crum's arrest was not on the list.

Byrd says he doesn't recall chemical irritant being used on any restrained prisoners Oct. 7, although he says it's possible.

The agreement with the Justice Department requires investigation of any use of chemical irritant on a person who's already been restrained, including tape-recorded statements of all witnesses. But Crum says no one ever called him.

Police similarly ignored his brother's request that police give water to people who had been sprayed, according to Crum.

"Brian mentioned water like 50 times," Terry Crum says. "I found it unnecessary to proceed, because it wasn't going to occur. They didn't even say, 'Screw off.' They said 'Oh yeah, sure, in a while.' "

About an hour after Crum was arrested, he says, police drove the prisoners to the back of District One police headquarters, instead of the Justice Center. Tina Butcher says she and the other protesters waited in the van at least three hours. She says she begged to be allowed to use a rest room.

"(The police) seemed to have no idea where we were going or what was going on," she says.

But that wasn't the only humiliation the cops delivered, according to the protesters. Upon arrival at the Justice Center, the protesters say, officers started calling the male prisoners "pussies" and "motherfuckers."

Byrd suggested that a review of surveillance tapes at the Justice Center would show what happened. But the tapes have no audio, according to Steve Barnett, spokesman for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department.

Byrd says that if someone has a complaint, it will be investigated. He did not return calls seeking further comment.

At the Justice Center, Butcher says, a police officer with a clipboard started going over a list of Butcher's body piercings — information she was required to disclose during processing at the jail. The list included nose and tongue piercings and "others."

The officer allegedly asked if she had her nipples pierced and whether any piercings were below her belt. Butcher said yes. Then the officer asked if her boyfriend enjoys sex more because of the piercings, Butcher says.

"I said 'Do I have to answer that?' and he said 'No, I'm just curious,' " she says.

The city's agreement with the Justice Department contains no policy reforms for that kind of behavior by police. ©

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