California Officer Charged With Secretly Spraying Teenager’s Pizza With Pepper Spray In Traffic Stop

220px-Vegeterian_PIZZAOrange County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Tavera is facing a bizarre charge this week for allegedly spraying a teenager’s pizza with pepper spray without his knowledge in a routine traffic stop.

Tavera, 30, pulled over a 19-year-old kid for a traffic violation on Sept. 8, 2012. The teenager had a pizza in the backseat. When he got home, he and four friends became sick after eating the pizza. Pepper spray was suspected and they called the police about the traffic stop.

What is interesting is that Tavera is only charged with misdemeanor assault or battery by a public officer. He remains on paid administrative leave. Yet, pepper spray can be lethal to people with asthma or others with weakened physical conditions. There have been dozens of such deaths in Los Angeles. Poisoning food would seem to be a bit more serious than a simple misdemeanor.

The term pepper spray is a bit of a misnomer for OC (“Oleoresin Capsicum”). The active ingredient is indeed capsaicin, which is a chemical derived from chilis and other such plants. That is where the similarity ends however. Oleoresin capsicum is extracted using a solvent like ethanol. It is then turned into a resin and mixed with an emulsifier like propylene glycol.

I am unclear why the law below was not charged as opposed to the misdemeanor:

SECTION 346-367g

347. (a) (1) Every person who willfully mingles any poison or
harmful substance with any food, drink, medicine, or pharmaceutical
product or who willfully places any poison or harmful substance in
any spring, well, reservoir, or public water supply, where the person
knows or should have known that the same would be taken by any human
being to his or her injury, is guilty of a felony punishable by
imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or five years.
(2) Any violation of paragraph (1) involving the use of a poison
or harmful substance that may cause death if ingested or that causes
the infliction of great bodily injury on any person shall be punished
by an additional term of three years.

That would seem a more appropriate charge, particularly with an officer allegedly using police powers to carry out the crime. Perhaps I am missing something and one of our California lawyers can help us out on the charge selection.

 Source: NBC

36 thoughts on “California Officer Charged With Secretly Spraying Teenager’s Pizza With Pepper Spray In Traffic Stop”

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  3. No I haven’t been through OC/CS certification training. You know, the training where you have to be sprayed in order to understand the seriousness of the weapon you have hanging on your tactical belt?
    I don’t even own a tactical belt.
    I said your post actually gives some data about the effect of OC.
    On the other hand, Turley gives no data, but tried to make his point by using scary-sounding words which are actually innocuous words if you know their meanings.

  4. jahigginbotham,

    Have you been through the OC/CS certification training? You know, the trainng where you have to be sprayed in order to understand the seriousness of the weapon you have hanging on your tactical belt?

    There is as much difference between combat grade pepper spray and pepper sauce as there is between a firecracker and a hand grenade. I have no idea how they ingested the pizza with that stuff on it, unless it did not react until they had swallowed it. It is NOT to be ingested internally. It can do serious damage to internal organs. For one thing, in some people the throat can swell shut and they cannot breathe. I don’t have particularly sensitive skin, but got some on me a few weeks ago and it took two hours to recover to the point where I did not feel as if I had a coconut lodged in my throat. I am with Darren on this. I don’t like the stuff, and if it is sprayed into the wind or indoors, it is as likely to incapacitate the sprayer as much as the sprayee.

    The idea of putting that stuff on somebody’s food as a prank is incomprehensible. Sound nasty? Really? OC is a nasty weapon. Both OC and CS are banned by the Geneva Convention as a prohibited weapon in warfare. 5,300,000 Scoville Units is not food under even the most generous interpretation of what is food.

  5. Regardless of the possible classification/description of OC (see e.g. Otteray Scribe’s comment above), Turley does not show that “pepper spray” is much of a misnomer. He uses terms such as “solvent”, “ethanol”, “emulsifier”, and “resin” in an attempt to make OC sound nasty. But the two sentences don’t really describe anything bad. Vanilla extract is made by extracting flavor from beans with the solvent ethanol. And there isn’t anything much more vanilla than vanilla. The same with propylene glycol and emulsifiers which are in many foods we enjoy. So why resort to subterfuge?

  6. How could you eat a pizza with that stuff on it and not know something was wrong with it, like “woah, this tastes awful/too hot etc., I’m not eating it’ wrong with it.

  7. Actually I stopped carrying OC because I got sick and tired of having to deal with the overspray and the fumes burned too much. Plus, it doesn’t work as well as some think.

    But this joker who sprayed the pizza, I agree he should have been charged with the felony as our professor mentions. The elements of the crime fit. There was simply no excuse for doing this. There is no gray area here were it is argued if OC should have been used or not against a fighting suspect, it was someone’s food. Even in warfare you don’t feed poisons to prisoners of war. From a chivalry point of viewe, poison is regarded as cowardly. Calling this guy a deputy sheriff is an insult to anyone who wears the star.

    As far as the effects go on the persons who ate the pizza I can see how it made them greatly sick. Just getting it on your lips, in your eyes, or nose it burns like a crazy and you snot and tear up like you never thought possible. I can’t imagine what this would do to someone’s throat or esophagus. And it lingers for a long time even after being rinsed off. I’d rather be tased.

  8. i know what kind of special sauce deputy dawg would be getting on his next big mac.

  9. Hurt them at the wallet and hopefully these abuses will lessen. Make anyone who overlooks or enables these kind of actions financially and if applicabale criminally responsible, and you’ll see how quickly change will come about. This includes the officer, any and all supervisors in the command chain or colleagues who are not speaking up. Why should the tax payers pay for these abuses? By not enacting laws, and or setting policies about police misconduct, the people are essentially enabling these abuses as well.

    In any other job, you pull these kind of sadistic pranks, and you’re out the door in a second. Why are they given administrative leave? Show them the door, save $$$$, and elevate their conduct.

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