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Confrontation at Grizzly Creek (I)

by Nicholas Wilson
Headwaters Article Index

Police call blockade a "crime scene"
EUREKA -- Ending the blockade that kept loggers from the remote site where David "Gypsy" Chain was killed in mid-September, a large force of police raided the site at dawn October 7, using pepper spray on two women locked to logging equipment and making five arrests.

A sheriff's spokesman said the raid came in response to complaints from Pacific Lumber and neighboring property owners served by the same road who said the blockade prevented them from accessing their land for firewood gathering. Sheriff's investigator Juan Freeman said he has completed photographing and measuring at the site of Chain's death. Pacific Lumber has said it agreed not to log while the investigation was ongoing.

Requests by clergy, media and civil rights observers denied
The raid began at 7AM on October 7, with sheriff's deputies aided by officers from the police in nearby Fortuna, members of the California Highway Patrol, and the California Dept. of Forestry. The Earth First! office in nearby Arcata reported a count of 42 officers, and news sources reported about 60. The activists were caught sleeping and were not quick enough to lock themselves in a human chain across the road as shown in Monitor photos published earlier.

By 10AM, more than 80 people had gathered across the highway to witness police action and support the protesters. Lt. Steve Cobine denied requests by clergy, media and civil rights observers to observe police actions, saying it was a "crime scene." He told KMUD news the crime was trespassing and possible vandalism, and said besides people locked to logging equipment there were people suspended from tripods and in a tree. Eventually five people were arrested at the logging site on PL property when they refused to leave. Two others were allowed to leave the area voluntarily without arrest.

Darryl Cherney Josh Brown of Earth First! was on the scene when police arrived and told KMUD it was a "military-style" operation, with officers tackling the activists and shoving them to the ground. Earth First! organizer Darryl Cherney said they had received a tip and were able to avoid having their lockdown equipment seized.

Police tore down the unoccupied blockade barrier nearest to Route 36. They were also able to quickly clear a second blockade further up the logging road because activists weren't locked down to an abandoned car blocking a gate, but others mounted wooden pole tripod barricades blocking the road, sitting on platforms suspended nearly 40 feet in the air, making it difficult for authorities remove the barricades without injuring them. Arrests continued through the day.

Arcata Earth First! worker "Olive" said that two young women were chained to logging equipment near the death site as a final blockade. One was heard screaming "pepper spray" shortly after authorities reached the area. According to Earth First!, Noel, who was locked down high on a cable yarder boom, was first tied down to the boom by an officer. The boom was lowered, and officers then held her head back and poured liquid pepper spray over her face from a cup. The second woman, Christiane, also was doused in the same way, Earth First! said.

The two women complained to their attorney, Brendan Cummings, 24 hours later that their requests for medical treatment in jail had been denied, and said they were still suffering inflammation and discomfort from the pepper spray. Cummings and J. Tony Serra are the new attorneys for the nine forest defenders pepper sprayed last year who are suing Humboldt County and the city of Eureka in federal court. An August trial in that case in San Francisco ended in a mistrial with a split jury.

It came out during the trial that pepper spray was available in concentrations of 1, 3, and 10 percent. The Humboldt sheriff's office chose the strongest version, and purchased the largest canisters available. The new use of pepper spray by Humboldt officers was their first since the Oct. 14, 1997, incident in Rep. Frank Riggs' Eureka office.

Even though police had disrupted their three-week blockade, Earth First! vowed later that day to hold the line at the hilltop where Chain died in order to prevent Pacific Lumber from resuming logging or tampering with evidence.

Police delay investigation
The initial blockade was successful in turning back loggers on its first day, and kept them out for 19 days. Within hours of Chain's death, the sheriff's office had issued a preliminary finding that the death was accidental, and it made no attempt to prevent possible evidence tampering at the scene.

It was only in response to continued demand for an investigation that that aerial photos of the scene were made four days after the blockade went up. An official investigation team did not inspect the death scene until ten days after Chain's death. Without the Earth First! blockade this might not have been possible. Pacific Lumber eventually agreed not to resume operations or tamper with the scene until investigators were finished with it, but this promise came only after the blockade had prevented operations for over a week.

As soon as officers left the scene at 5 PM sharp, activists began rebuilding a barricade of logs, rocks and debris where their former blockade had stood since the morning after Chain's death. Tomorrow, they knew, would bring another confrontation with police.

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Albion Monitor October 16, 1998 (

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