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Jury Finds in Favor of Decatur Police, Against Staley Protesters

Conclusion of the trial over ureasonable use of force by the Decatur, IL police when they pepper-gassed nonviolent protesters in 1994.
Urbana, IL--At 1:50 this afternoon, a federal jury returned verdicts against the Staley workers and their allies, stating that none of the three charged police officers used unreasonable force when they pepper-gassed dozens of protesters on June 25, 1994.

Defense attorney Londrigan stated that he felt the jury reached, "a fine, just decision."

Plaintiff attorneys, defendants, and their supporters reacted differently.

Plaintiff attorney Jan Susler responded, "I fear Mr. Londrigan's idea of justice. The workers got screwed by Tate & Lyle, the Decatur police, and this is number three."

Before the jury left the courtroom to make a decision, Judge Baker instructed the jury to consider only the question of whether the police used unreasonable force when they "seized" the plaintiffs with pepper spray. He also combined the two classes--those sprayed directly and those wafted by the spray--and instructed the jury to consider only those sprayed directly.

"This is certainly a case about seizure," noted plaintiff Jerry Tucker. "The corporations seized the workers' jobs and livelihoods, the Decatur police seized their rights to peaceful protest, and today, in court, the process seized justice."

"[The jury's decision] is bewildering," said CJ Hawking, a minister and supporter of the locked-out Staley workers.

Most of the plaintiffs and supporters wondered how the jury could view the video tapes, showing police spraying pepper gas at the heads of workers seated on the ground, with their backs to the police, and reach a verdict in favor of the police.

Marty Conlisk, a videographer with Labor Beat, a grassroots pro-labor television program in Chicago, mused, "here's another case like Rodney King, where you have video showing the police going nuts, and even that doesn't convince the jury." He questioned whether popular ideas about police violence, portrayed defensively by the for-profit media, influenced the jurors' attitudes toward the police actions.

"I don't understand," said plaintiff and former Staley worker Dick Schabel. "It's like [the jury] had their heads in the sand. They weren't interested in looking at the video."

After the jury presented its verdict and left the courtroom, the defense and plaintiff teams went to separate rooms. The plaintiffs were joined today by former Staley workers Janey Frazier and Dan Lane, who undertook a 70-day hunger strike during the lockout. Most of the plaintiffs and their supporters felt that the jury had made up its mind before the trial ended. One plaintiff supporter said she thought "the jury didn't care. They just wanted to eat lunch and go home."

Plaintiff attorney Jan Susler said that they will discuss appealing the court's decision.


This was a class-action lawsuit over police pepper-spraying of nonviolent protesters. Supporters of 768 locked out workers at Staley Mfg. held a mass rally in Decatur, on June 25, 1994, the one-year anniversary of the lockout's start. Several people blocked a gate to the factory and were pepper-sprayed while seated on the ground. Four primary plaintiffs represented up to approximately 70 members of the class who were directly sprayed or were wafted by pepper gas. Plaintiffs sought financial damages. A jury heard the case at the federal courthouse in Urbana, Illinois. The trial began on Tuesday, October 31, 2000, over six years after the pepper-spraying took place. The trial concluded at 2 p.m. on Monday, November 6.

Go to for earlier reports from the trial and for pictures of the 1994 pepper-spraying. Artists' drawings of the courtroom will be available this evening.



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