Student sees effects of DPS pepper spray

By Sean Phee

“I still can’t see out of my left eye,” said Cedric Berryhill a week after being pepper sprayed by a Department of Public Safety officer.

Two SIU students and a visiting friend said they were pepper sprayed by a DPS officer at Thompson Point for pretending to wrestle Nov. 11. Four students in total were given citations for the incident.

Tre Knight, Aaliyah Jackson, and Berryhill, all freshmen at SIU, and Satuan Nash, a visitor from Chicago, were cited at 12 a.m. Nov. 11, according to the DPS daily crime log. Berryhill, Nash and Jackson said they were hit by the pepper spray.


“We were wrestling as friends when a cop walked up to us,” said Berryhill, who is from Chicago studying zoology. “We stopped when we saw him come up to us and he sprayed Mace directly in our faces.”

Berryhill said his parents are filing lawsuits against SIU and DPS.

Berryhill went to the emergency room at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale where he was told his sight would return in 30 minutes, he said.  The next day, Berryhill went to the Student Health Center because he still had no sight in one eye.

The Health Center advised Berryhill to see their eye specialist if his sight did not return in 24 hours, he said.

“They wanted me to see the eye specialist there, but they don’t work with my insurance so I wasn’t able to see him,” Berryhill said.

Nearly a week later, Berryhill’s condition has not been resolved.

Berryhill said the past week has been very difficult for him. Since being sprayed, he can no longer drive, and his condition has affected his classwork as well, he said.


“I had to call my academic advisor to notify my teachers that I just won’t be able to go to class,” Berryhill said.

DPS officers use oleoresin capsicum as pepper spray, which is common for most police forces, according to an email from DPS Police Chief Benjamin Newman.

“Usually the effects of OC last for 20 to 45 minutes,” Newman wrote.

Citing a 2001 study by the National Institute of Justice on the use of pepper spray, Newman determined the spray generally does not result in adverse health risks, he said. The study said pepper spray has been credited with decreasing injuries to officers and arrestees by reducing the need for more severe force options.

An article in the Scientific American magazine said pepper spray can cause permanent damage to the cornea.

In 2012, a woman was permanently blinded after being sprayed with pepper spray, according to the Los Angeles Times. The device used on the woman shoots pepper spray at a speed of 400 miles per hour and was fired just 12 inches away from her face.

Newman said he could not comment on an open investigation, but provided the police report. Newman said DPS received a complaint about five individuals fighting near Warren Hall and witnesses claimed a window was broken during the incident.

Newman said officers arrived to find several individuals on the ground fighting and the Carbondale Police Department provided assistance. An ambulance was called and the four suspects were treated with water and air, Newman said.

Nash said the window was not broken during their play fighting.

“The broken window had nothing to do with us,” Nash said. “A paramedic came, but he didn’t help us much.”

Nash said the pepper spray burned his eyes, throat and nostrils all night.

“They told me to take a shower and wash my eyes with milk but nothing worked,” Nash said.

Brandon Bell, a freshman from Chicago studying hospitality and tourism administration, said he witnessed the event and the students were just horsing around.

“Parts of it were caught on video,” Bell said. “I don’t know if anybody caught the part when the officer showed up and sprayed the Mace.”

Romaine Ramazani, a freshman from Saginaw, Texas, studying physiology, said the students were just goofing around. There is video recording up until right before the pepper spray was used and there is recording of events that happened afterward, Ramazani said.

The video recordings show there was no fight, Ramazani said.

Nash, who plans to attend SIU next year, said DPS should review how it trains its officers.

DPS follows use of force guidelines established by the state, Newman said. He cited guidelines which list several control tactics that can be used on active resisters including the use of chemical agents such as pepper spray, as an acceptable tactic to subdue active resisters.

The guidelines define an active resister as a person who exhibits resistive movement to avoid physical control, or as a passive resister presents a credible threat to the officer through: an agitated demeanor, verbal threats or words signifying an intent or ability to use violence or resistance.

Nash said he and his friends could not have been resisting because they did not see the officer until moments before they were sprayed.

“Officers shouldn’t be able to just Mace people without warning,” he said. “They should assess the situation before they react.”