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Several departments will continue use

10/27/2004 - Boston Red Sox

BOSTON -- At least one big-city police department has
suspended use of pepper-spray pellet guns blamed for the death of a
21-year-old college student who was shot by police trying to break
up a rowdy crowd of Red Sox fans last week.

The Seattle Police Department said it has shelved the equipment
until it can determine what happened in Boston. Department
spokesman Scott Moss said that the guns are normally restricted to
a few trained officers and have yet to be used.

Other police departments around the country said they have found
such crowd-control weapons to be effective and would keep using
them.

"We've used it on six occasions and haven't had any problems
with it," said Sgt. Carlos Rojas of the Santa Ana, Calif., Police
Department.

Boston police, who acquired the weapons for this year's
Democratic National Convention, have put them aside at least
temporarily and have gone back to using a previous model since the
death of Victoria Snelgrove, who was shot in the eye.

The reassessment came as Boston police girded for another
potential Sox-inspired frenzy, with the hometown team standing on
the brink of a World Series victory against the St. Louis
Cardinals. The Red Sox had their first chance to clinch Wednesday
night.

Snelgrove was among an estimated 80,000 fans who swarmed the
streets outside Fenway Park after the Red Sox beat the rival New
York Yankees to advance to the World Series for the first time
since 1986.

Officers fired into a crowd of fans, striking Snelgrove and at
least two others. Paul Gately, 24, needed stitches to patch a hole
in his cheek and suffered bruises and welts on his torso. Kapila
Bhamidipati, of Bridgewater, N.J., was struck in the temple and
said doctors had to remove small pieces of plastic from his
forehead.

Within 24 hours of Snelgrove's death, Boston Police Commissioner
Kathleen O'Toole suspended use of the pepper guns. Several days
later, O'Toole tapped Massachusetts' former chief federal
prosecutor, Donald K. Stern, to lead an investigation into the
death.

Virginia-based FN Herstal, which manufactures the FN303 weapon
used in Boston, said there have been no other instances of anyone
seriously injured or killed since the gun went on the market about
two years ago.

Bucky Mills, deputy director of law enforcement sale, marketing
and training, said a couple of hundred law enforcement agencies
have bought the guns, including New York City and Washington, D.C.,
and several federal agencies.

Charles "Sid" Heal, a commander with the Los Angeles Sheriff's
Department and an expert on less-than-lethal force, said the only
thing that stopped his department from buying the FN303 was its
cost -- about $900 per launcher. Heal said the FN303 launcher was
known to be very accurate.

"They're one of the best that are out there," Heal said. "We
tried it, we liked it, we just couldn't afford it."

Because the pellet is not propelled with a great deal of
velocity, Heal said he was shocked that it was implicated in a
death.

"If you had asked me beforehand, I would have said it couldn't
have happened," Heal said.

On its Web site, FN Herstal says the weapon should never be
aimed at a person's throat, neck or head.

The same weapons were used without incident in College Park,
Md., in 2002 after the University of Maryland basketball team won
the NCAA championship.