Legal help: Criminally negligent for bouncers to use mace indoors in a crowded place?

The tragedy in Chicago last night lead a friend and I to this discussion. Could the act of using mace, indoors, in a crowded area be considered criminally negligent? I know there are other factors that played into the 21 deaths last night (the set of locked doors comes to mind). I just can’t see how or why bar bouncers would ever use mace inside. Use a stun gun or a baton. Are there any lawsuits that address this issue? Any lawyers wanna chime in with 2¢ ?

Basically, IIRC, you are privelaged to be in a club, you don’t have a right. You are a licensee, which means that you are on private property, which means they could probably use same force as cops to secure their property and escort you off the grounds.

That’s my best uneducated guess.

I’ll have to look for this story on the news, this is news to me.

for those who haven’t heard, here’s a link:

I think the greatest tragedy is the fact that in a club full of 1,500 people (which I understand was 150% capacity) there was only ONE exit because a back door was locked shut and had to be beaten down by rescue workers.

That place was a fire trap.

And of course, what I meant by that post in regards to the OP is that I think (and I’m an actress not a lawyer :smiley: ) it would be hard to prove that, in addition to the other zillions of factors (the fight, the doors, the over packed crowd) that it was simply the fault of the bouncers spraying mace that 21 people are dead.

I don’t see how this could be true in the same system where criminals can sue the owners of a victims house for slip-and-fall. The issue isn’t the level of force levied at the perpetrators but the criminal negligence of using an area of effect weapon in a crowded space with innocent bystanders.

Patrons of a business are invitees, and the owner of that business is under the highest obligation to make it safe to its invitees.
I’d bet that this includes not spraying pepper spray in an enclosed place. (I’ve been in a small room when an officer accidentily sprayed some pepper spray - it cleared out a much larger area and took a long time to dissipate). Without having more facts, this certainly appears to be a situation where the business owner will be liable.

Ah yes, invitees. I always get those mixed up.

You’d have to check the Ill Rev Statutes, Criminal Code, but I doubt if any crime applies to the pepper spray. However, laws were probably broken regarding the number of exits, etc. The owner will, undoubtedly, be civilly liable (and there will be lawsuits), not only because of the pepper spray, but because of the other factors involved. The civil lawsuits will be much more of a problem to the owner than the slap on the wrist he/she will get from the criminal aspect.

I don’t know about whether the use of the pepper spray would be considered criminally negligent or reckless (a higher standard of criminal responsibility), but the management of the nightclub could be charged with criminally negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter (requiring recklessness) for its failure to have proper fire doors.

In Commonwealth v. Welansky 316 Mass. 383, 55 N.E. 2d 902 (1944), a case resulting from a similar incident, the involuntary manslaughter conviction of the owner of a nightclub was upheld. Welansky was the principal owner and manager of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston. On a particularly crowded night in November 1942, a fast-moving fire broke out in the club, and a number of people died behind fire doors that had been improperly kept locked. Even though Welansky was in the hospital at the time of the fire, he knew about the condition of the fire doors. The jury found him to have been reckless in keeping them locked when the club was crowded, and convicted him of a count of involuntary manslaughter for each of the deaths from the fire.

I’ve never been in an area where mace or pepper spray has been used. But why would that make 1500 people run for their lives? Did they think it was terrorist related? Did some ignorant f*ck yell “Nerve GAS!!!” or something? That’s the same as yelling fire in a theatre if someone had lit a cigarette. If so, go after that bastard. If you can’t find him, don’t go after the club, they are within their rights to use it. They were making the club safe by stopping a fight. Who were these people anyway? Running around causing chaos isn’t going to get you anywhere.

Under common law*, occupiers owe a duty of care to people who come onto their premises. An acceptable standard of care must be provided to protect people against unreasonable harm.

When testing for negligence courts look to see if a reasonable person would have foreseen the risk of harm. That defendant also has to be in a position to do something about preventing that harm from occurring.

In this case you could argue that the risk was foreseeable, if say, there was only one exit and the premise was loaded beyond capacity. I don’t like the defendants (occupier of premises) chances.

BTW, a large amount of the mace must have been released to have had such an effect. Did they let off an entire canister?

  • May not apply in the US.

yme - you’d be most amazingly surprised by how potent even a small shot of pepper spray is - real, honest to goodness mace is even worse. I’ve seen an entire gymnasium empty out in less than 3 minutes during the middle of a basketball game when a lady’s pepper spray keyring went off by mistake. It was nasty and the gym was pretty much unusable for several hours, even with all doors open and the ventilation system running at full blast.

Do something similar in a smaller, more compact setting, at night - loiud music playing so people can’t be clear about what’s happening … crowds of people can turn panicky very quickly and for no apparently good reason.

It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this tragedy.

I would think that the bouncers and bar management would bear some sort of responsibility for the establishment being 150% over capacity. That sort of thing at very least gets your club shut down and/or your liquor license lifted up here. AFAIK, if the infractions are severe and frequent, you or your businesses may be refused further licenses to serve alcohol, and possible charges may be laid. But that’s in Federal territory in Canada, so YMMV, and probably does.

What’s even more disturbing as I watch NBC interview these fools.

NBC: “Pookie, father of 2, what was going on in there?”
Pookie: “It was loud, people running around all over the place.”
FATHER OF 2!!!, Monday morning at 02:30ct???

While it isn’t specifically related to my question, I feel compelled to point out that these were two women fighting. Yes, you could come up with some exceptions of kickass women who would make it tough; But I find it very hard to believe that two bouncers in a Chicago nightclub (one that’s seen its share of violence) could not break them apart without using mace.

I also have no idea if the fact that they were women fighting would figure into a decision of whether or not the mace was warranted or neglectful.
yme, I’d say in the state we are in right now – given the circumstances (in a large crowd, smelling something that made me choke and seemed noxious), I’d do whatever I could to get out as quickly as possible. Until I knew otherwise, I’d assume the worst.

From what I have heard, the terroist threat has really been played up in the media in the US lately. Maybe the media can be found vicariously negligent for putting people in fear.


Looks like the owner is gonna do time.

I’ve maced (that is, used cs or cn tear gas) a bunch of people in doors, and I’ve pepper sprayed dozens more. How the chem. agent will affect others (including the user) is something to consider, however the situation takes priority. Over the years I’ve had alot of innocent people accidently get hit when I sprayed someone. It’s not an ideal situation but there was 100% justification in using the spray, at the moment I used it, and there weren’t any other force options equal to it to use. No lawsuites ever came from it. Almost all the people who accidently got hit had observed and understood why I sprayed when I did. I’ve found pepper spay to spread out in the air more, thus affecting more innocents than mace did.

Stun guns and tasers are illegal in alot of places for civillians to use. In wisconsin it’s a felony.

It’s hard to comment on this until we all find out exactly what the security guys were doing.

About people partying at 2 am on a Sunday night/Monday morning… Monday was a holiday. Although President’s Day is not universally observed to the same degree as, say, Christmas, the vast majority of people in Chicago were off work on Monday. This no doubt contributed to the number of people in the club on a Sunday night. Due to the three-day weekend this was more like a second Saturday night than a typical Sunday.

Many sub-groups in Chicago, including the African-American population, have a long tradition of late-night clubs and parties. Heck, when I hung out with the Chicago Irish drinking until 2 or 4 am, and partying until 5 was a regular occurance. Maybe your town doesn’t do this, but Chicago does so no, it’s not unusual for folks to be up and about at that hour.

I’m getting a little peeved at the implication that these folks were somehow irresponsible for being up and dancing at that hour. The news reported that several groups were celebrating birthdays that actually occured later in the week - in other words, they were using a holiday weekend to party, presumably so they could get up and go to work later in the week like responsible people.

Mace/Pepper Spray causing a panic… Several witnesses/survivors stated that, when the cloud of gas descended and people started choking and gasping there WERE cries of things like “bin Laden” and some people did think they were under attack. The government and media have been playing up the risk of attack a great deal lately so that’s not too surprising and may well have contributed to the panic. We’ve all heard about the bombings Bali, so the idea of a nightclub as a target isn’t at all far-fetched.

The superintendent of police did say that if someone was yelling incendiary words and the culprit could be found they might be open to prosecution. Apparently, in addition to not yelling “fire” in a crowded theater one does not yell “terrorist attack” in a crowded nightclub. Unless one is actually occuring, of course.

Past use of mace/pepper spray in the club… Apparently, they’ve used this before for crowd control, as do other venues. The advantage is that it takes the fight out of people quickly and (usually) does no lasting damage. It is legal to use these items for crowd control, even on private property.

It is possible that too much spray was used for the confined space. Like many other things, it is being investigated.

Other factors/items… The fire department says that in this case the locked doors may not have been a contributing factor, as everyone ran for the one door they came in by - no bodies piled by the other exists.

Some people were, apparently, found dead on the dance floor. This could be due to trampling, overdose of spray, or heart attack. American urban populations, particularly blacks, have a high rate of asthma which may have contributed to some deaths as asthma and chemical sprays are a bad mix.