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Students File Injury Claims From WTO

December 8, 1999

SEATTLE (AP) _ Two art students have filed claims, saying they were squirted with pepper spray by a county police officer while they were inside a car videotaping anti-World Trade Organization protests.

The claim against King County, the first step in seeking damages before a lawsuit is filed, is the first of what could be many damage claims related to last week’s WTO demonstrations. County police have 60 days to respond.

The claim was filed Tuesday by attorney John Muenster on behalf of Melissa Benton and Shauna Lin Balaski.

The claim says the women, both students at The Art Institute of Seattle, were parked in a grocery store lot videotaping protesters and police Dec. 1 when a deputy in riot gear knocked on their car window.

Muenster said Benton, the driver, rolled down the window to ask what the deputy wanted.

As her passenger’s camera was rolling, the deputy grabbed Benton by the collar, sprayed her in the face, then sprayed the camera lens and Balaski, Muenster said.

Balaski, less affected by the spray than Benton, drove the two to a medical center.

Sheriff’s spokesman John Urquhart said that the officer involved, one of 300 county deputies providing police support, had not yet been identified but that the incident was being investigated.

Doug Honig, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said several hundred people have contacted the ACLU with complaints of civil-rights violations.

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