What It’s Like to Be Pepper Sprayed in Prison

Twenty lawsuits allege Oregon prison guards refused to allow inmates to shower for hours or even days after spraying them with pepper spray.

Amilitary working dog handler with the 6th Security Forces Squadron reacts to oleoresin capsicum (OC) after opening his eyes during OC training at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Jan. 28, 2016. Unlike Oregon prisoners, he was allowed to wash his face. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mariette M. Adams)

Burned alive. On fire. Choking on toxic fumes.

That's how more than a dozen inmates describe their suffering after state prison guards doused them with pepper spray and allegedly denied them showers for hours or even days.

The inmates do not allege Oregon Department of Corrections officials used the pepper spray without reason—some of them openly admit they refused to follow direct orders or got into fights with other inmates.

But all 13 of the plaintiffs say Snake River Correctional Institution officials refused to provide adequate medical treatment after spraying inmates with pepper spray.

Three weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernández contacted lawyers who offer pro bono services to find representation for the plaintiffs. He also contacted Lewis & Clark law professor Aliza Kaplan to offer students the chance to work on the cases.

ODOC settled two similar suits in 2016 for $13,500 each, but a spokeswoman says the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

Here are the most vivid descriptions from the suits:

Christopher Roy Hoffman

April 23

"Plaintiff was involved in a physical altercation with a bunch of inmates in which SRCI staff deployed huge amounts of chemical agent called 'Sabre Red,' which the manufacturer states is four times hotter than regular pepper spray. It's so hot the manufacturer describes it with an illustration of a flame."

Jeremy Greg James Brooks

April 3

"Plaintiff was immediately on fire, suffering the worst burning pains ever.… Plaintiff was complaining that he felt he was on fire and wanted to decontaminate. Plaintiff was laughed at by COs and told things like 'Man, that spray sucks,' 'It's the new hot shit,' and 'Bet you'll think before fighting in our institution again, won't you?'"

Hamzai Tarik Rudolph

April 10

"You can hear multiple inmates choking and screaming, "Turn off the vents!" but they just ignored our complaints, and they were wearing gas masks, so it had no effect on the officials."

Joshua Vincent Walsh

Jan. 19

"Officials failed to shut the ventilation system off into the cells in special housing while in the course of using chemical agent, thus causing plaintiff's cell to fill up with toxic fumes.…The CO said, 'Yeah, hot water opens your pores and pushes spray deeper into your skin as well as reactivating the spray and intensifying everything.'…The nurse said, 'Jesus Christ, man, you don't want to decontaminate with hot water.'"

Harley Dillon Peterson

Feb. 14

"They hosed plaintiff down with multiple bursts of chemical agent from an industrial-size canister, then they came in plaintiff's cell and beat the crap out of him for a couple minutes, stomping on plaintiff's head and face.…The unnamed CO that was escorting plaintiff to his new cell walked plaintiff by the shower and said, 'I bet you wish you could shower, huh, you fucking punk.'"

Anthony Eugene Bourn

July 23

"CO 'Jost' was working the unit, and plaintiff complained to her every time she passed plaintiff's cell that he was burning and itching and having breathing problems. Plaintiff requested to decontaminate, and defendant 'Jost' kept saying, 'You are not getting one.'"

Brandon Tyler Fagan

April 25

"Plaintiff requested to decontaminate, and defendant Lee kept saying, 'You will [get] a shower on your regular shower day.'"

Pedro Delgado Suarez

July 20

"I was only offered a hot water shower, even though officers know hot water would only cause me more pain."

Ernie Perez

July 27

"The hot water caused a really bad reaction. My skin was burning unbearably. I was trembling uncontrollably, and I had to support myself on the rail."

Ricky Wayne Karle

March 8

"SRCI officials did not let plaintiff decontaminate by way of shower until three days, over 68 hours, later. Plaintiff alleges that SRCI officials were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's serious medical needs."

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