- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Prince George's County police and National Football League officials said yesterday they had closed the book on an incident Monday night in which an officer used pepper spray to break up a fight in the stands during the Washington Redskins-Philadelphia Eagles game.
"There is no internal investigation into the involved officer's actions," Cpl. Joe Merkel, spokesman for Prince George's County police, said.
The pepper spray spread over a wide area, affecting fans, officials, coaches and players. The nationally televised game was delayed several minutes while the spray dissipated.
Prince George's County police Capt. Andy Ellis said yesterday the use of the pepper spray to control fans in the densely crowded stadium was "within guidelines," but he said officials would re-examine the policy in light of the incident.
"Any time we have an incident that garners attention, we're going to review it," Capt. Ellis said. "The only way to improve is to review what we're doing."
He said he had heard of incidents in which pepper spray had been used to break up previous altercations at FedEx Field in Landover, but those occurred mostly on the concourse level or near entrances.
The National Football League yesterday also seemed content to drop the issue. After praising the actions of referee Bob McElwee, who suspended play with an announcement that a "foreign substance" had been sprayed behind the Eagles bench, a league spokesman said the authority to use pepper spray in the stands was a local police decision.
"It was a law-enforcement matter, and it was a law-enforcement action taken by local police," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations. "It's not our decision if the police use pepper spray in crowd-control situations. We defer to them on that."
Mr. Aiello said it is "standard operating procedure" to review all aspects of games but that he doubts the league will have further comment on the incident.
Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said security issues are reviewed after each game and that significant changes are not likely to be made for the next home game on Oct. 13.
The police statement issued Tuesday said a Prince George's County sergeant working overtime at the event discharged his department-issued pepper spray after he was unable to stop several assailants from punching and kicking another spectator.
A statement issued by the Washington Redskins said the incident stemmed from "an unidentified person assaulting a fan," but Capt. Ellis said he is "certain there were more than two people involved in this confrontation."
The discharged spray was sucked into cooling fans on the sidelines, sickening some players and delaying the game for about eight minutes in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, a national television audience and a thinning crowd, which numbered nearly 85,000 at the start of the game, were left to wonder whether the "foreign substance" was the result of a terrorist attack.
No arrests were made, and two persons were treated at the scene for minor exposure to pepper spray.
Jody Foldesy contributed to this report.

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