- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Prince George's County police yesterday defended an officer's decision to use pepper spray to break up a fight in the stands during the Redskins game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., on Monday night, but would not provide many details.
According to a statement issued by police late yesterday, the officer reacted to a fight in which a spectator was being kicked by other spectators.
"Due to the number of combatants involved, he was unable to stop it and deployed his issued pepper spray," the statement reads. It says cooling fans on the field pulled pepper spray residue to the field level behind the Philadelphia Eagles bench.
But an eyewitness account of the incident and a statement released by the Redskins contradict the police's description that several persons were involved.
Tim Farrell, who was sitting nearby in Section 120 when the incident occurred, told WRC-TV (Channel 4) that two persons were fighting and three police officers were present. He questioned whether the use of the pepper spray was necessary.
"I don't think it had to resort to that," Mr. Farrell said. "It was three cops and one guy doing the punching, and they were breaking up. I don't think they had to spray him to subdue him. I guess it was more crowd control than anything else."
A statement released yesterday by the Redskins said police discovered one "unidentified person assaulting a fan."
"When the assailant ignored repeated orders to halt, police released a small amount of the caustic spray to end the incident," the statement reads.
With 6:27 remaining in the game, play was suspended when referee Bob McElwee announced that there was "some kind of a foreign substance sprayed on the Eagles sideline."
The announcement left some question among the crowd, which numbered nearly 85,000, as to what had happened or what the "foreign substance" was. Eagles players began walking across the field away from their sideline, and fans in the stands behind the Eagles bench covered their faces with their hands and their shirts. Two Eagles players vomited on the sidelines, according to their coach.
The game was halted for about eight minutes before Mr. McElwee announced it was safe to resume play.
A technician and a camera operator were treated at the scene for "minor exposure" to the pepper spray. No one was transported to the hospital, and police made no arrests.
Prince George's County officials declined to discuss the incident yesterday. Police Chief Gerald Wilson and County Executive Wayne K. Curry did not respond to interview requests. A secretary for State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson said Mr. Johnson was not available to comment.
Percy Alston, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, which represents the county's police officers, said the sergeant who discharged the pepper spray was working overtime at the game. He defended the officer's actions.
"In this case, there was no improper action taken," Mr. Alston said. "The officer used the tools he was issued and he acted as he was trained."
Mr. Alston said a stadium employee had been drawn into the fight, and the officer's next option would have been to use his baton to subdue the assailant. He said that could have caused more serious injuries and escalated the level of violence.
The police statement says the officer "made the decision to deploy the pepper spray to quickly control a potentially dangerous situation with the minimal force necessary to assist the spectator in trouble." It says the action was "taken to safeguard the well-being of all nearby spectators."
Mr. Alston said he was "pretty sure" pepper spray had been used to break up fights in the stadium in the past, but he couldn't provide a specific instance.
The statement does not say whether there will be an investigation into the matter, or the status of the police officer who discharged the pepper spray.
After hearing the statement released by police, incoming State's Attorney Glenn Ivey called the situation "risky" and said he would like to see more information before drawing any conclusions.
"I think they should obviously take a look at it," Mr. Ivey said. "I wouldn't feel like I could second guess [the officers actions] at this point."
Chris McGoey, a Los Angeles-based security consultant, called the situation "unfortunate." He agreed that the use of pepper spray in the stadium probably stemmed further violence, but he said the perception that it could be some form of terrorist attack is something officials might want to address, given security concerns in the wake of September 11.
NFL officials defended Mr. McElwee's decision to suspend play, along with the limited announcement he made of the incident.
"Certainly you could see that the Eagles players had inhaled something. No one knew what it was initially, and [Mr. McElwee] properly suspended play at that point," said Greg Aiello, the National Football League's vice president of public relations.
"I don't know exactly what information [Mr. McElwee] had at that point, but, again, we're going to review all aspects of this situation and establish a procedure," he said.
Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said the team could not make any announcement during the game regarding the nature of the incident.
"We can't," Mr. Swanson said. "We can make an announcement in the press box. We control the press box announcer. Other than very specific, down-and-distance, game-related announcements, we cannot make any announcements relating to the operations of the game."
Mr. Aiello said he was not aware of any regulation that would prohibit the Redskins from making such an announcement.
"I don't know if anything precluded them, but we'll review everything about the situation," Mr. Aiello said. "We're certainly going to review how we announce these types of things as we move forward."
Jody Foldesy and Arlo Wagner contributed to this report.

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