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Monday, July 13, 2015

Death of Tuscaloosa man makes me wonder if I was fortunate to survive my encounter with pepper spray

Pepper spray generally has been seen in the United States as a harmless way to subdue suspects during an arrest. It might be time to rethink that after an Alabama man died late last week, minutes after law-enforcement officers directed pepper spray at him.

Anthony Dewayne Ware, 35, ran into nearby woods when officers from the Tuscaloosa Police Department (TPD) approached him at an apartment complex on the city's east side. Officers, claiming Ware was resisting arrest, used pepper spray to help subdue and then handcuff him. As officers were walking Ware out of the woods, he collapsed and was pronounced dead later that evening at DCH Regional Medical Center.

The story hits close to home because Shelby County Officer Chris Blevins doused me with pepper spray during an arrest--inside my own home, related to a civil matter--on October 23, 2013. We've shown that Blevins' use of pepper spray, during an arrest that was unlawful to begin with, almost certainly amounted to excessive force. Now we know that the incident might have put my life at risk--all because Alabama GOP operative Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke filed a dubious defamation lawsuit against my wife and me, seeking prior restraints that have been prohibited under more than 200 years of First Amendment law.

Anthony Ware's death related to pepper spray has made national and international news. Why were cops looking for him? CNN reports:

A Tuscaloosa resident called police Friday night after spotting Anthony Dewayne Ware, 35, sitting on the front porch of a home with a gun, police said.

"Mr. Ware had an active warrant that had been verified for attempting to elude police," Tuscaloosa police Assistant Chief Ronnie Dunn said.

When officers arrived, police said, Ware fled.

"Officers chased him into the woods, and when the officers caught up to him, he resisted arrest," Dunn said.

Police pepper-sprayed Ware, who continued struggling but was eventually handcuffed, Dunn said. But while officers were walking out of the woods with him, Ware collapsed.

The Tuscaloosa News reported that investigators have requested an expedited autopsy in the Ware case, and they plan to release its results and video of the pursuit. Did the justice system have a legitimate reason to be targeting Ware? That appears to be in doubt, according to The Tuscaloosa News:

TPD had a warrant to charge Ware for attempting to elude police. Ware was arrested in September after a woman told officers that he choked her until she was unconscious, sexually assaulted her and stole her 2011 Honda Accord. The woman recanted that statement in a letter that is included in the court documents. A judge denied his request to dismiss the case, which was pending when he died.

The Ware case and my case differ in a number of respects. Ware had a criminal record (convictions for second-degree assault, escape, drug possession and drug trafficking), while I don't think I've even had a speeding ticket. Ware was wanted on a criminal matter--although it appears the supposed victim might have made up or embellished her story--while my case was 100 percent civil, with no allegations of criminal conduct.

Ware was apprehended in a wooded area, while cops nabbed me inside my own home in a manner that appears to violate state and federal law. Police did have a warrant for Ware, while any evidence of a warrant has yet to be produced in my case--Officer Blevins, on the scene, did not present a warrant, never said he had a warrant, and never even stated his purpose for being on my property until I had been knocked to the concrete floor of my garage three times and doused in the face with pepper spray.

What's it like to be the target of pepper spray? Here's how The Tuscaloosa News reported its effects:

Oleoresin capsicum, called OC or pepper spray, is a chemical compound that irritates the eyes. It causes tears, pain and temporary blindness and is used by police to subdue suspects.

Based on my experience, pepper spray has much more severe effects than that indicates. I was seated on the floor of my garage, with my arms resting on my raised knees, My hands were right there, where any semi-competent officer could have put handcuffs on them. But Blevins sprayed OC into my face, apparently from about a foot away.

I immediately had the sensation of my breath being taken away, of being disoriented in a way I've never experienced. In fact, I felt immobilized, like someone had reached the switch that operates my limbs and clicked it to "off." I don't know what science has found about OC, but I believe it has an immediate impact on the neurological system. Is it safe? Well, when I got to the Shelby County Jail, officers made me strip off all my clothes and I was told I was being "de-toxed," placed into a special area with a shower. None of the officers, it seemed, was anxious to get close to me.

This much is certain: I have never felt the same since the night I was pepper sprayed? Is that due to the PTSD with which I've been diagnosed by multiple medical professionals Or has my neuromuscular system been damaged by pepper spray?

We might discover that Anthony Ware had an underlying condition--heart disease, asthma, epilepsy, or something else--that contributed to his death. But it seems clear, for now, that he would be alive if police had not directed pepper spray at him.

That makes me think I might have been lucky, on October 23, 2013, to come out of my garage alive.

Here is a video about the pepper-spray death of Anthony Ware:


Anonymous said...

I think it will be very interesting to see what actually killed this guy. Did he have a pre-existing condition that led to his death? Did he have substances in his body that didn't mix well with Pepper spray? I doubt that pepper spray alone caused him to keel over.

legalschnauzer said...

I don't doubt that pepper spray could make someone keel over. As the post says, I've had it used on me--I know what it feels like. I can promise it does way more than sting the eyes.

Anonymous said...

I smell a lawsuit coming over this Tuscaloosa case.

Anonymous said...

LS, you've stated that you think your life and your wife's life were in danger when you were arrested--and Shelby cops tried to arrest her. Well, here's a proposition for you: I think the fact they pepper sprayed you supports that suspicion. Think how outrageous it is that this officer came into your house--with no warrant. Then, add to that the outrageous use of pepper spray, inside your home. What they did was nuts, but I don't think they were planning on you or your wife living to tell your story. They just wanted you under their control, no matter what it took.

legalschnauzer said...

Interesting comment, @8:46. You probably are on target.

Anonymous said...

You do realize that all officers in the state of Alabama have to be certified to carry OC and they get sprayed during the certification process. Perhaps he shouldn't have fought with the police who had a warrant against him.

legalschnauzer said...

No, @9:30, I was not aware of the certification process for officers to carry OC. I don't think, however, that is the issue presented here. The question now, I think: Is this spray as harmless as we've been led to believe? If it's not, should officers use it, whether they are certified or not?

One other point: I know from personal experience that you can't always believe police who say they have a warrant and claim an individual is fighting them. In my case, a cop wrote in the report that he had a warrant, but he never displayed it to me or even said to me that he had a warrant. When an asst. DA was ordered to turn over copies of any warrants at my "resisting arrest" trial, she said she didn't have any.

During that trial, video shows the officer saying multiple times "don't fight me," when his own written words show I wasn't fighting him. He admits he made contact with me, not the other way around, and he admits the only move I made was to put my hands in front of my face, in an effort to protect my glasses. And this all happened inside my home, which the officer entered without stating his purpose for being there, violating state and federal law.

You might believe that officers consistently tell the truth, and I might have believed that at one time. But I know now it is false.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for telling the truth of the injustice system and those in unlawful enforcement.

You all are strong. Stay strong and I wish you all the best and blessings.

I'm shocked that this is America. It is very sad and I have decided to leave my country. As soon as I enter a foreign country, I will show them stories such as yours.

Good people being persecuted for exercising their rights and liberties.

I do not trust the APA. They worked with the CIA to torture people.

I've had people say I have PTSD but I'm in a constant state of shock and disbelief. I didn't even believe in emotional distress but I cannot escape it. Lies can kill people. That is why I believe in the Innocents Project. I wish you all the best. You're an inspiration and brave.

Anonymous said...

Roger, you missed my point. If pepper spray was dangerous and every officer gets sprayed during their certification, then some officers would have health problems from the spray. I'm sure you would have heard of an officer dying during a certification class for pepper spray. I am willing to bet that Ware had a medical condition that would have caused his death from a lot of things.

legalschnauzer said...

It certainly could be that Ware had an underlying medical condition, as I note in the post. It will be interesting to see what the autopsy and investigation show.

Of course, a lot of people in our society have underlying medical conditions. And if pepper spray could throw such a person into a health crisis, maybe we need to rethink use of the spray. I'm not sure an investigation on the Ware case will be able to determine that. It's possible more scientific research is needed on the health effects of pepper spray.

On a personal level, I wonder if it matters how much spray is used, and from what distance it was sprayed. I was sprayed right in the face, from probably a foot or so away. And I was covered with the stuff when I got to the jail. For whatever reason, I have not felt the same since. So you probably can understand why I have a special interest in this subject. Never dreamed I would be doused with pepper spray, but I was.

Anonymous said...

Fighting a resisting person could also cause such a person to go into a health crisis. If you know you have one, then don't fight the police. On a side note, don't fight the police period. You may have a right to resist a false arrest, but you are better off fighting it in court than on the street or in your home.

legalschnauzer said...

I would make a couple of points, @8:57. One, people who have underlying medical conditions might not know it; that's part of the reason they are called "underlying." Two, as I've stated from my own experience, just because an officer says you are fighting him, that doesn't mean you are. As we learned in the Charleston, SC, police-shooting case, cops have been known to lie and try to cover their tracks when they know they've done wrong.

You're final point probably is correct, but it's "easier said, than done." When you are facing an arrest--and you know it's unlawful--the natural inclination is to either resist or try to get away. After all, arrest means jail, and that is not a pleasant concept for most people.

Have you ever been in jail? I have, and the experience is way worse than I could have imagined. There is a good reason most of us don't want to go to jail, not for a few hours--not even for a few minutes. It's a dehumanizing experience, and you have no guarantees that a judge (when you try to fight the arrest in court) is going to rule correctly and let you go. You have no guarantees that you won't be placed with people who could do you serious physical harm. Plus, you are looking at probably having to pay a lawyer at least a few thousand dollars to get you out--and no one is going to compensate you for that.

Given all of that, it's natural for a person who knows there are no lawful grounds for the arrest, to try to avoid it. In Ware's case, he probably had reason to know the cops were after him, possibly with legit grounds--although the alleged victim reportedly had recanted much of her story. In my case, I knew there were no grounds for my arrest, and I had no experience with such a confrontation in my life. I had no idea what I was supposed to even do, and the cop didn't tell me.

Would you just let a person drag you out of your home when he has shown you no reason to believe he's acting lawfully? You might say the answer is yes. But if you actually were placed in that position, as I was, I bet the answer would be no.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that happened to you. You are correct, the police have to show you a warrant and ask you to step outside. Under the 4th amendment, you have the right to be secure in your person, papers, house and effects. I don't want to retrain these officers, they should simply be fired. Officers who would do something like this to a citizen put a target on the backs of good officers who wouldn't think of doing something like this to a citizen.

Anthony Ware's autopsy showed he had an enlarged heart and thyroid, and had cocaine, meth and alcohol in his system. Death was attributed to drug toxicity.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add, the charge of eluding the police is a separate charge. If the domestic charges were settled, there would still be an active warrant for Ware's arrest on eluding the police.