The woman who pepper-sprayed more than a dozen shoppers at a Porter Ranch, CA Walmart has not been charged because she may have fired in self-defense, police said Monday.
Detectives said they have reviewed videos that indicate the 32-year-old woman who injured at least 14 Walmart customers during a Thursday night sales rush for video-console games may have feared for her life.
"What am I going to charge her with?" said Los Angeles Police Department Detective Michael Fesperman, of Devonshire Division.
"There was a stampede at Walmart from people getting Xbox games for half off," he said. "There was no control. People were getting stampeded and trampled. There were people screaming, yelling that they were being trampled or
"This woman may have fired her pepper spray in self-defense."
It was just after 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving when the woman pepper-sprayed more than a dozen shoppers at the Northeast San Fernando Valley Walmart, police said.
A frenzy broke out over a just-opened crate of Microsoft Xbox console games, selling for half their retail price of between $60 to $70 each.
The store was full of children and senior citizens at risk of being overrun by the charge, police said.
Each victim of the pepper spray blast was treated at the store and sent home.
Police initially described the 140-pound, unidentified Hispanic woman as a "competitive shopper" who may have bought an Xbox console before fleeing the store.
They first said the suspect faced a minimum of battery charges for each injured person.
The story went viral, with cellphone videos reporting the retail carnage on YouTube. Residents across the nation decried the consumer violence launching a shopping season for holidays that trumpet peace and joy.
The Valley pepper sprayer became a symbol for the greediness of the so-called Black Friday sales event, considered one of the busiest shopping days of the year. At one Walmart
in San Leandro, a robber shot a shopper who refused to give up the goods. The man was hospitalized in critical, but stable condition.
"You know it's a sad day when people cannot act like human beings when it comes to Christmas shopping," Marisol Arnold commented on the Daily News website. "When you pepper-spray a group of people for an Xbox, you are not fit to be in society. You are an animal."
On Friday, the suspect in the Porter Ranch pepper-spraying incident turned herself in at the Northridge police station, but invoked her right not to answer questions and was released.
Over the weekend, two Devonshire Division detectives interviewed 14 witnesses and victims, and watched numerous cellphone and Walmart store videos, Fesperman said.
The initial reports about a mad shopper pepper-spraying other customers to grab the discounted games may have been erroneous, he told the Daily News early in the day.
"Essentially, what this is: On these Black Fridays, people can't control themselves, and people get killed. They're crushed," said Fesperman, a homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. "We don't know what happened here.
"It appears she may have fired her pepper spray in self-defense, in order to prevent being crushed."
Fesperman, one of two detectives on the case, said the woman was "in her rights" to carry pepper spray for self-defense.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., did not immediately return a request for comment about its alleged lack of security during Black Friday sales at its Porter Ranch Walmart store.
By Monday afternoon, media calls compelled police to hold a news conference before a half-dozen TV cameras on the steps of Devonshire Station.
Detectives said they hoped to obtain more videos, and interview about 10 others who were exposed to or directly squirted with pepper spray. Otherwise known as oleoresin capsicum spray, it can burn the eyes and nose, cause temporary blindness, and promote coughing and difficulty breathing.
Anyone with information was asked to call Devonshire Division detectives at 818-832-0609. The information will be handed over to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office for possible prosecution of the woman, police said.
"This is a very complex investigation. We're only halfway through it," said Lt. Tim Torsney, the other detective working on the case. "O.C. spray for anything other than self-defense could be a felony."
Police declined to say precisely where the woman lived, other than the Valley. They also declined to discuss what she did after spraying other Walmart shoppers.
What's clear is that malls and big-box stores are going to have to revamp their Black Friday shopping policies, in order to protect the welfare and safety of their patrons, police said.
"We are going to use this as a learning point in the future, regarding mall promotions of this type," Capt. Kris Pitcher, commander of Devonshire Division, told reporters.
"To make sure that there are no more injuries or safety concerns."