Lundberg v. County of Humboldt

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Lundberg v. County of Humboldt was a United States District Court for the Northern District of California decision issued on April 29, 2005 which arose out of a protest dispute in 1997 between environmental activists for the Headwaters Forest and the Sheriff's Deputies of Humboldt County, California. During three protests in the Fall of 1997, police officers swabbed pepper spray in the eyes of eight activists practicing nonviolent resistance. The action taken by the police was later judged to be excessive force and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[1][2]


In three incidents, the first in September 25, 1997, in the office lobby of Pacific Lumber Company in Scotia, California, the second at a Pacific Lumber logging site in Bear Creek on October 3, 1997, and a third incident at the Eureka district office of Congressman Frank Riggs on October 16, 1997, County sheriff's deputies stuck pepper spray drenched Q-tips into the protesters' eyes to try to coerce them to end the protest. Meeting resistance, a second dose of pepper spray, and then sprayed, some of them directly in the eyes with canisters held a few inches from the protestors faces.

The plaintiffs charged that the Sheriff used excessive force.[3]

The first trial occurred in August 1998 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, presided by Judge Vaughn Walker and ended in a deadlock. Judge Walker then threw the case out.

The plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco. Headwaters Forest Defense v. Humboldt County, 240 F.3d 1185, 1197 (9th Cir. 2001) ("Headwaters I").[4] On May 5, 2000 the court denying qualified immunity to Sheriff and Chief Deputy and overturning the summary judgment, thus giving an opportunity for a new trial. No. 98-17250, D.C. No. CV-97-03989-VRW[5] The defendants appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court and the case was sent back to the 9th Circuit for reconsideration, which again ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.[6] The defendants again appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which was then denied.

The second trial (Headwaters II, 276 F.3d at 1131.) began Sept. 8, 2004, presided by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, but resulted in a hung jury.

The third trial began April 11, 2005 resulting in a victory for the plaintiffs[7]. The plaintiffs won a jury trial, but were awarded only $1 per person in damages.

A reference to this incident is made in a 1999 episode of The Simpsons titled "Homer to the Max". In where Homer Simpson (renamed "Max Power"), Marge Simpson, and Ed Begley Jr. chain themselves to redwood trees in the hope to save them from destruction.