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Miss. corrections: Pepper spray didn't work


Pepper spray is one of the many tools police officers use to subdue combative suspects, but sometimes it has the opposite effect.

That's what happened Saturday night with an inmate at the Harrison County jail. Sheriff George H. Payne Jr. said officers used pepper spray to try and calm him but instead he became more violent. Later in the evening, the 40-year-old inmate was taken to Memorial Hospital with head injuries.

The inmate, Jessie Lee Williams, died Monday night of bleeding of the brain at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport.

There have been several other cases in which police used pepper spray to subdue suspects.

John Michael Hearne was shot by a Jackson County sheriff's deputy in August 2004, but first he was poked with a nightstick and sprayed twice with pepper spray. Hearne was lying face down in front of a gas station when officers were called to the scene.

Late last year, about a dozen New Orleans police officers surrounded a man who was wielding a knife and sprayed Mace on him. When Anthony Hayes allegedly lunged at officers with the knife, three of them fired nine rounds and killed him.

In 1999, Moss Point police used pepper spray on Marcus Malone, who later died in the jail.

Pepper spray, or oleoresin capsicum, is made from cayenne peppers and causes irritation and inflammation.

"It's basically like taking red pepper and spraying it in your eyes," said Dr. Bill Kergosien, an emergency room physician at Garden Park Medical Center. "It's like a tear gas. It's a chemical irritant."

Kergosien said the effects wear off in about an hour and people who have been sprayed don't normally require medical attention because of the spray.

Kergosien said if people have taken drugs, they may not perceive pain, so the pepper spray may anger them rather than subdue them.

In Mississippi, law enforcement officers must be certified to carry and use pepper spray. As part of their training, they are sprayed with it.

Julian Allen, director of the Law Enforcement Training Academy at the University of Southern Mississippi, said officers are trained to use the lowest level of force necessary to make a suspect compliant.

He said he believes officers use pepper spray or Mace only when it's absolutely necessary.

"It's always dependent on the situation," he said. "The training stresses the lowest level of force. I don't really see that (officers) are haphazardly using it for the fun of it. If you can get them into compliance with something they respect and won't hurt them, it cuts down on the fighting that goes on."

 Biloxi Sun Herald (http://www.sunherald.com/)

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