Talk about a stinging defeat.
A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by naval police officers who wanted to stop the Navy from blasting recruits’ eyes with pepper spray during their training.
The officers argued that the practice of subjecting trainees to a direct shot of pepper spray was dangerous and deprived them of their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. They said the Navy could rely on less intense training methods, such as smearing a small amount of the spray on the skin beneath the eyes, or forcing trainees to walk through a room that had previously been sprayed.
Pepper spray is known to cause swelling, irritation, blisters, respiratory problems and, in some select instances, death.
Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the court was not in a position to overrule the Navy’s decision making authority because the officers failed to show that the department had acted arbitrarily and capriciously in designing its training program.
“The use of direct-impact [pepper] spray indisputably risks injury, but the agency decided that this risk was offset by the benefits of training,” Leon wrote. “Plaintiffs allegation that the action was ‘clearly not the product of reasoned thought,’ is little more than a legal conclusion and provides insufficient support for its claim that the agency decision was arbitrary and capricious.”
Leon also tossed the officers’ constitutional arguments, writing that the trainees were not being singled out for unequal treatment, and that the Navy’s training practices did not “shock the conscience,” the standard for a substantive due process claim.