Tear gas in Santa Clara County jails didn't work more than half the time: auditor

Scott Fowler of NW Defense trains Santa Clara County sheriffs deputies how to use Clear Out, or tear gas. 

As the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday on whether to allow the sheriff to continue using tear gas in the jails and buy more military equipment, a closer look at an independent auditor's review shows that gassing people to make them comply didn't work more than half the time. 

Tear gas, known buy the brand Clear Out, was used 17 times in Santa Clara County's two jails over the course of a year, according to the sheriff.

But on 11 of those occasions, deputies had to deploy a second round of Clear Out, which contains a chemical agent known as CS, because the first use "proved ineffective to gain compliance," according to a report released by the OIR Group, a firm commissioned by the county to conduct independent oversight. 

And on eight instances, the emergency response team had to enter the cell anyway and use "some level of physical force" to restrain the person, the OIR Group found. 

For example, the auditors noted that the same person was gassed four times in two weeks – twice on each occasion – after refusing to take court-ordered medication. On the last try, a deputy had to physically struggle with the person in his cell before a nurse could finally inject the medication. 

"It seemed like the Clear Out here was deployed as part of a standard protocol rather than based on an individual assessment of the circumstances presented," the report authors wrote. 


Santa Clara County's use of tear gas at jail halts military equipment purchases

Santa Clara County uses tear gas in its jails, the only Bay Area facility to do so, a KTVU investigation has found. Its use has halted further purchases of more military equipment.

In addition, the OIR Group found that pepper spray is more effective in getting people to obey orders, mostly because it's "more difficult to tolerate." 

This sentiment jibes with KTVU interviews with people who have been gassed and pepper sprayed; they said that pepper spray feels even worse and more painful than tear gas.

Overall, the OIR Group found that all use of tear gas falls within the current Santa Clara County policy.

However, the authors of the OIR Group broke down each of the 17 occasions deputies used tear gas in Santa Clara County, finding several individual instances where deputies used it on someone with a pre-existing medical condition, when they probably shouldn't have, or used it without trying de-escalation methods first. 

The authors issued recommendations to remedy those problems, some of which sheriff's officials told a special committee are already taking place. 

A monthlong investigation by KTVU revealed that Santa Clara County is the only county in the Bay Area to deploy tear gas in its jails.

The investigation also revealed that Solano County is the only county to forbid the use of both tear gas and pepper spray.  

In Solano County, deputies said they persuade people to take their medication by calling in clinicians and defense attorneys. 

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@fox.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez.