Pepper spray fallout rises


Pepper spray guidelines

OC (oleoresin capsicum), or pepper spray, which is distributed in canisters as standard issue to Grand Junction Police Department patrol officers, is a chemical agent for irritating eyes, causing pain or even temporary blindness.

“OC spray is considered a use of force and shall be employed in a manner consistent with this Department’s use of force standards,” reads the Grand Junction Police Department’s written policy guidelines. “OC is a soft control technique used on a subject demonstrating passive resistance. OC may be used when:

• “Verbal instructions have failed to bring about the subject’s compliance, and

• “The officer believes that his/her empty handed capability will not be sufficient to effect the arrest.”

The guidelines say officers must report all discharges of OC, whether accidental or intentional, to immediate supervisors “as soon as possible.”

Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper on Wednesday said two officers received reprimands following an internal investigation focusing on misuse of pepper spray. Meanwhile, a third officer remains on paid administrative leave, pending determination of the officer’s “disposition.”

“I’ll make a decision by the end of the week,” Camper said of the third officer.

Camper said a fourth officer resigned in early July shortly after being questioned in the probe, which took more than a month and concluded last week.

The investigation, he said, produced answers to larger questions that dogged the agency this summer.

“We wanted to see if there was any indication that pepper-spray use on transient locations was sanctioned, taught or tolerated by this department,” Camper said. “The investigation showed that’s not the case.”

Confirmed, however, was at least one incident in which a patrol officer emptied his pepper-spray canister on the interior of an abandoned Grand Junction building frequented by transients. Camper said the officer told the internal investigation he used the defensive weapon toward convincing transients not to come back.

The officer was issued “written counseling,” which Camper characterized as notice not to do it again. Similar discipline was handed out to the officer’s immediate supervisor, a sergeant. Camper said the officer had made a request to his sergeant for more pepper spray, acknowledging he’d used up his supply at a transient location.

“In our view, the sergeant should have taken the opportunity to ask more questions about why it was used,” Camper said.

The investigation started when former officers Justin Roberts, Phillip Van Why and Joseph Mulcahy implicated specific colleagues as using the weapons on various property belonging to transients. The three officers were fired by Camper after a separate internal investigation confirmed they cut tents and caused other damage at an established transient camp May 3 while searching for a suspect in a theft investigation.

Aside from a new internal investigation, the fired trio’s claims about pepper-spray use prompted Camper and police administration to issue a department-wide order June 21.

“There is nothing in (GJPD) policy that allows for OC spray to be utilized as anything other than a defensive weapon,” the order said. “OC spray shall not be used as a deterrent to keep individuals away from certain locations such as trees or vacant buildings, and shall certainly not be used in a manner that may be perceived as harassing or retaliatory in nature.”

While reaffirming policy, the department has made other changes.

In response to a request filed by The Daily Sentinel under the Colorado Open Records Act, city attorney John Shaver wrote there were no responsive records showing formal requests by officers to refill pepper spray canisters, dating back to Jan. 1, 2009.

“At the time of issuance of all of the canisters no log or other record was kept,” Shaver wrote in response. “That practice has been changed. A log is now being kept.”

When asked to produce all use-of-force reports involving pepper spray, Shaver responded there were none for all of 2009 and none for the period of Jan. 1 this year through July 9.

“That’s very believable to me,” Camper said when asked about the data. “That fact is it doesn’t get used very often. I carried the stuff 29 years and used it once, and that was before Tasers.”


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