Richmond Police and 19 pepper-sprayed partygoers have settled a lawsuit alleging that police used excessive force in breaking up a gathering in May 2004.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that police officers went too far when without warning they set off a fogger containing oleoresin capsicum, the chemical agent commonly known as "pepper spray," on Second and East Main streets downtown.
The officers entered the apartment around midnight to break up a small party, the lawsuit alleges, and approached the stage where a band was playing. One officer grabbed a singer's microphone and tossed it to the floor. The officers then set off the pepper spray and then left the apartment. At no point did the officers audibly identify themselves as police officers, the lawsuit charges.
Afterward, the lawsuit alleges, one police officer was overheard saying, "Man, we got to use the pepper spray, that's always fun."
Richmond Police will pay each of the plaintiffs $2,500 apiece, for a total of $47,500, says Richmond attorney Steven Benjamin, who represented the plaintiffs. Also as part of the settlement, all of the charges against those attending the party will be dropped. (Style Weekly freelance writer Amy Biegelsen was among the plaintiffs.)
"A line was crossed, and they had to do whatever they could to tell the police department that they were wrong," Benjamin says. "They felt it was their civic duty to stand up and say this was wrong, people could have been badly hurt."
The settlement is expected to be "fully executed" this week, Benjamin says. As part of the settlement, the city of Richmond admits to no wrongdoing. Calls to Richmond Police weren't immediately returned Monday.
As a final statement, most of the 19 people who filed the lawsuit will donate their settlement checks to an undetermined charity.
"The point of this exercise was never personal gain," Benjamin says, "but the exercise of a moral responsibility to do what's right, to take a stand." S Amy Biegelsen first reported this story June 9, 2004. Read that story.Click here for more News and Features