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Trial in Excessive Force Suit Halted

May 09, 2003|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court late Thursday halted an excessive-force jury trial scheduled to begin Monday in which eight anti-logging protesters are suing Humboldt County authorities for ordering pepper spray to be swabbed on their eyelids.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, without comment, blocked the trial amid claims by the plaintiffs' lawyers that the judge hearing the case is biased against them.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker dismissed the case in 1998 after jurors deadlocked 4 to 4. The U.S. Supreme Court in November reinstated the case.

Attorneys representing the protesters tried to get Walker removed from hearing the retrial, saying that his original dismissal of the case showed that he was biased against the protesters. Walker declined to step down and instead transferred the case from San Francisco federal court to a federal courthouse in Eureka, which is near where the 1997 events occurred.

The plaintiffs also allege that pro-logging sentiment is too high there for them to get an unbiased jury.

The protesters contend that Humboldt County sheriff's deputies used excessive force when they used pepper spray during three protests in the fall of 1997 over Pacific Lumber Co.'s logging of ancient redwoods. The protesters had locked their arms together inside metal cylinders and officers swabbed their eyes with pepper spray when arresting them. Footage of the arrests and of the protesters' screams of pain was broadcast nationally.

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