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.
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: