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”

  1. I think you are all missing the *real* legal issue here.

    The civil conversion claim for the loss of one pizza.

  2. Very highly trained/professional deputies on patrol in Orange County California.

  3. @Mac 1, August 5, 2013 at 7:56 am
    No deaths have been caused by OC, though deaths associated with the panic response of getting sprayed have occurred.

    Using your twisted-logic: no deaths have been caused by bullets, though the deaths associated with the human bodies response of getting shot have occurred.

  4. Mike,
    The capsaicin ointment used for shingles acts as a “counterirritant.” Exactly how counterirritants work is only partly understood, but they do work.

    However, you cannot just use anything on the shelf. Zostrix cream comes in 0.75% concentration for shingles, and that is as high as you should go. If you get a generic, make sure the dose is no higher than 0.75% or you will think you are on fire. Lower concentrations than that are available. The label warns you to never put it on an open lesion. Wait till the blisters have crusted over.

    1. OS,

      Which only goes to prove I should have read the label first, even in my dotage I’m still as my Yiddishe Grandmama described: “Moishe you have more nerve than brains.” 🙂

  5. Elaine:
    I can’t speak for the other commenters here, but Darren S. and I have been through the training so we have first-hand knowledge of this stuff. OC/Cs spray is something to be taken seriously. What people don’t realize is that weapons grade OC/CS spray is what it says it is: a weapon. The fact police grade spray is more than twice as powerful than any you can buy at a gun store for self-defense should make the user cautious.

    It is not clear from the story if this was OC only, or if it also had CS (2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile) in it. CS is illegal for a civilian to own.

  6. Published on Thursday, March 9, 2000 in In These Times
    Chemical Cops: Tear Gas And Pepper Spray Can Be Deadly
    by Terry Allen

    The tons of tear gas and pepper spray munitions Seattle police used on demonstrators and bystanders alike at the anti-WTO demonstrations last December contained chemicals implicated in lung problems, eye damage and even death. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the effects of these chemical weapons are not always confined to 15 or so minutes of intense pain and incapacitation. According to manufacturers’ documents, military research and medical literature, each of these agents carries short- and long-term health risks; various formulations contain potential carcinogens.

    Tear gas and pepper spray cause health problems even when used within guidelines on healthy people. But in Seattle, as elsewhere, law enforcement violated manufacturers’ warnings and inevitably sprayed vulnerable populations such as people with diabetes, asthma, allergies or heart problems, as well as pregnant women, children and the elderly. “It was like a war zone,” says Russell Sparks, a student from Bellingham, Washington, who helped block a Seattle intersection on December 1. “The police rolled up in humvees, and I heard the clink, clink of cops jogging toward us. Within seconds the area was filled with gas and the air was pure white all around. I coughed and coughed. I felt like I was on fire, my friend and I both became hysterical. He fell down. A middle-aged man near me passed out, eyes open, shaking, dry heaving, twitching in the shoulders. A woman passed out face down. I tried to help but my eyes were burning and I was screaming for medical help.”

    Three days later, Sparks still felt “serious flu symptoms, phlegmy, tired, fatigued, problems with eyes focusing, burning, slightly nauseous. I felt like it went into every pore.” He wasn’t alone. The persistence and severity of symptoms widely reported by demonstrators and hapless bystanders gave rise to speculation that some “mystery gas” had been used. Rumors of nerve gas spread like a toxic cloud across the Internet.

    The truth is that tear gas and pepper spray alone can cause temporary blindness, respiratory problems, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue and disorientation. Symptoms may linger for days in otherwise healthy individuals. Out of 187 North Carolina corrections officers exposed to pepper spray under controlled conditions for training purposes, according to Duke University Medical Center study, eight had symptoms persisting for more than a week, including eye problems, chest problems, headaches and disorientation.

    More seriously, reports by the Army and in prestigious medical journals have warned of respiratory arrest, pulmonary edema, and acute elevations in blood pressure associated with risk of stroke and heart attack. Military and industrial sources also point to the possibility of cancer, birth defects and DNA damage from these chemical weapons.

  7. If someone at a pizza place had done that to a pi…uh, cop’s pizza, the sprayer wouldn’ thave survived the night. He would have been suicided in a jail cell.

    Anything short of immediate imprisonment is encouragement of assault on civilians.

  8. No Mac, I’m not 15………… but it’s people like you who, with your attitude continue to gloss over these types of crimes….. I don’t think he should be dipped in Sulfuric acid….maybe just a little battery acid…..

  9. Mac says OC spray is made from food grade pepper. It is made from capsaicin extracted from peppers. The resemblance ends there. The heat of a pepper is measured in Scoville Heat Units, named after a pharmacist, Wilbur Scoville, who created the Scoville Organoleptic Test back in 1912. Just for grins, let’s take a look at a few peppers and pepper products to see how they stack up against police/military grade pepper spray in Scoville Heat Units:

    2,500 – 5,000 Jalapeño
    2,500 – 5,000 Original TABASCO® brand Pepper Sauce
    5,000 – 10,000 Hot Wax pepper
    30,000 – 50,000 Cayenne pepper
    100,000 – 200,000 Jamaican Hot pepper
    100,000 – 350,000 Habanero
    1,001,304 Naga-Bih Jolokia pepper (aka Ghost Pepper, believed to be the world’s hottest pepper until the discovery of the Trinidad Scorpion)
    1,463,700 Trinidad Moruga Scorpion
    2,000,000 Common Pepper spray (sold over the counter to civilians).

    Then we have police grade pepper spray:
    5,300,000 Scoville Heat Units

    Food grade huh? More than five times hotter than the Ghost Pepper.

    1. “It is made from capsaicin extracted from peppers.”


      As you probably know capsaicin is sometimes recommended as a pain reliever for shingles. When I got shingles about 3 1/2 years ago it was the single worst pain I ever had. I got some caspsaicin from the drug store and put it on. The pain got far worse and my wife had to bathe the area in milk to soothe it since I was in tears from the pain. We later did some research and found that it was used for shingles to initially make the pain much worse, so when the capsaicin wore off the shingles would hurt less. you can’t make this stuff up.

  10. Hopefully his lawyer will read this blog and the law that exists to protect people from malicious and potentially lethal acts indiscriminately.

    Surely that pizza should cost the State a good deal of money in a civil lawsuit as well.

    Lawyers should be lining up at this kids door!

  11. I think the charge is too lite…. Considering If the same had been done to the officer… It would be a felony….

  12. This officer should now be an ex-officer and should be charged the same as any other person who tried this dangerous stunt. Mac, as someone with asthma, I can tell you that many substances can cause a asthmatic reaction. Even acid reflux in the throat has been known to cause an asthmatic reaction. The pepper base of this spray could cause such a reaction in someone whose system can’t handle it. I have also been sprayed with pepper spray while in college during and after the Kent State killings and I can tell you it was no fun.

  13. And the purpose for the Officer to spray the pizza with pepper spray was what? The officer should be immediately fired, if that is possible under California Civil Service Law, and he should be indicted facing the most severe penalty provable. There is simply no rational justification for his act and the act itself evinces a sign of serious mental instability.

  14. “Perhaps I am missing something and one of our California lawyers can help us out on the charge selection.”

    Yep, you’re missing that is is a police officer that committed the crime. Thus no crime was committed.

  15. Vat of acid? That’s a strange sense of proportion you have…..what are you, 15?

  16. Charged with a crime and fired? Appropriate…..the drama queen stuff about people dying is bogus, though….. OC is made from food grade pepper. No deaths have been caused by OC, though deaths associated with the panic response of getting sprayed have occurred. But eating hot pepper does not cause a respiratory response. In fact, to demonstrate the absurdity of the idea I’ve sprayed pepper spray directly into my mouth…..givese the hiccups…..on food it’s not any different than putting pepper extract…..again, cause for termination and a misdemeanor charge, but the rest is kind of a bit exaggerated.

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