Shoppers cough as officer uses Mace in mall

June 29, 1994|By Kevin Smokler | Kevin Smokler,Sun Staff Writer

When Elise Houlik left Towson Town Center Monday night, she hadn't finished shopping. She had finished coughing, however, and felt relieved.

"It was like I had swallowed a mouthful of hot pepper," Ms. Houlik, 21, said yesterday.

And she had.

The cause of her discomfort was a gust of pepper spray let loose on the second floor of the mall by Baltimore County police Officer David Nilsen while he subdued a shoplifting suspect.

The small cloud of pepper spray floated up through the open area to the third floor on the east side of the mall. Security guards guided Ms. Houlik, several other shoppers and some employees outside or to the other side of the mall. Most complained of throat and eye irritations.

County police spokesman E. Jay Miller said the officer had been called moments after five youths were apprehended by security guards on suspicion of shoplifting.

Mr. Miller said one youth resisted and "hoisted the officer in the air." The two struggled outside the Nordstrom department store, and Officer Nilsen sprayed the youth in the eyes with his can of pepper Mace, subduing him. The youth was charged later with assault, Mr. Miller said. The police report did not indicate whether the other youths were charged.

The spokesman said the officer acted properly in the situation.

"They are trained and know what can happen," said Mr. Miller. "It was a judgment call."

The spray dissipated in a few minutes, and there were no serious injuries, police said.

"We had to close the store doors for five minutes," said Stacey Shade, manager of Structure, a clothing store next to Nordstrom.

"I'd never seen anything like that at the mall before," Ms. Shade said.

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