Albion Monitor /Commentary
[Editor's note: As widely reported elsewhere, the FBI is now investigating police treatment of Headwaters protesters by Humboldt County authorities. On October 30, lawyers for the environmentalists released horrifying videotapes showing deputies methodically swabbing the eyes of protesters with concentrated pepper spray as the nonviolent protesters scream and writhe in pain. One woman is sprayed directly into her eyes from an approximately three inch distance.

The police-made videos contained footage from a September 25 demonstration in the lobby of Pacific Lumber Company headquarters and an October 16 sit-in at the office of Representative Frank Riggs (R - Scotia). On October 31, Riggs defended this police behavior on the House floor. An unedited version of those remarks appears below.

A former deputy sheriff and real estate speculator, Riggs represents the sprawling Northern California First District. He has long has been criticized for his close ties to the timber industry, and his performance ratings from environmental groups are among the lowest in Congress. Logging companies showed their appreciation last year by contributing about $34,000 to his expensive re-election campaign, making them his third largest donor, behind only ideological PACs and wineries.

Riggs can be contacted via e-mail at, and as we reported in an Albion Monitor survey, his staff efficiently collects Internet mail. For additional background on Riggs, see his Congressional Quarterly profile.]

Congressional Record: October 31, 1997 (House)
Page H9840-H9841

"A Little Pepper Spray In The Face Area"

Hon. Frank Riggs of California

It is rather unusual circumstances that bring me to the floor to address my colleagues during special orders, but I really feel compelled to make this statement because of some very, I think, one-sided, misleading reports that have appeared in the media recently regarding a protest that occurred at my district office in Eureka, CA, on October 16.

On that day, over 60 protesters stormed my office. They trespassed my office. They threatened, they actually accosted and assaulted my two employees working in the office at the time, both female employees, wonderful, dedicated employees by the names of Julie Rogers and Ronnie Pelligrini, who felt genuinely threatened and frightened for their safety when this incident began.

These protesters, however, four of whom were subsequently arrested, have now gone to the media, along with their criminal defense attorneys, claiming that they were the victims of improper police conduct or inappropriate use of force by law enforcement. So I want to explain exactly what transpired in my office.

First of all, as I mentioned, the group was led by an individual wearing a ski mask and carrying a walkie-talkie. So imagine for a moment if your workplace, your business, your office, was invaded by somebody wearing a ski mask, and a group of protesters.

As they came in the office, as I mentioned, they jostled my employees, who obviously had no idea what was transpiring at the time, and who were attempting to call for help. They then trashed and vandalized my office, throwing bark and sawdust 6 inches deep on all of the equipment and throughout the office on the floor, and they unloaded and wheeled into my office a gigantic tree stump as part of this protest. When they off-loaded the tree stump in the parking lot, they did it with such a thud that my employees initially thought that some sort of a bomb had gone off outside.

Bear in mind, this was all part of an orchestrated protest, part of a series or ongoing series of protests that have become, unfortunately, a fact of life on California's north coast, but involve the harassment of private law-abiding citizens, intimidation, trespassing, vandalism of personal and commercial property, and resisting arrest.

After all this took place, and this was to protest my role in helping to secure congressional authorization and funding for the protection of living wage jobs in the forest product industry, and 7,500 acres of old growth forestland in my district, in the context of the annual spending bill for the Department of the Interior, they were protesting my role in that because they wanted to preserve, they want to preserve, 60,000 acres of forestland, all of it privately owned in our district, and they would like to add that to the vast tracts of forestland that already is in the public domain, under public ownership.

But as this protest continued, four individuals, one of them a minor, all female, chained themselves to this gigantic tree stump in my office. When the local law enforcement agencies arrived, they refused repeated commands, lawful orders from sworn peace officers, to separate themselves.

It turns out they had stuck their arms in metal sleeves, chained themselves to this tree stump, and law enforcement officers explained to these four protesters that not only were they under arrest, not only were they resisting arrest, but that law enforcement was afraid to cut through these metal sleeves for fear that the sparks might set off a fire in the office, which, as I mentioned, had been littered at that point with sawdust and wood chips everywhere.

So after they gave repeated orders to these protesters to separate, to unchain themselves, and to submit to the custody of law enforcement because they were under arrest, after they repeatedly refused these lawful orders, the peace officers involved, who have a very difficult, dangerous, and dirty job to do, then warned that they might use chemical agents to compel them to surrender to arrest. I am a former law enforcement officer myself. That is opposed to some other manner of peaceful restraint. They thought that was the proper arrest technique to use in this situation.

Even then, after being warned repeatedly, they refused to comply with the orders, so the law enforcement officers at that point applied a little pepper spray in the face area of these protesters, who still refused to comply with the orders of the law enforcement officers, who then finally, as a last resort, used a chemical agent called pepper spray to force them to submit to arrest.

Now these protesters are out there with their criminal defense attorneys saying, and I quote one of the attorneys, "The abuse of this extremely dangerous and incredibly painful chemical weapon to force obedience of peaceful protesters is not related to any legitimate law enforcement objective."

I want to conclude by saying that these were not peaceful protesters, these were reckless, wanton lawbreakers. My message to the media is get it right, and tell the rest of the story.

An archive of news coverage can be found at the "Rally Cry" website

Complete video clip available from CNN (7-15 minute download of Quick Time movie)

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Albion Monitor November 1, 1997 (

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