Cops sue for pesticide exposure

Six Chico police officers who walked into Northern Star Mills without knowing it was being fumigated with a powerful pesticide last summer are suing over injuries they received from the exposure.

The officers—Darrin Reichel, Greg Keeney, James Fryar, John Boyd, Curtis Prosise and Mike O’Brien—were called to the feed store on a report of a burglary in progress at about 10 p.m. on July 15, 2001. Within 30 seconds of entering the darkened store, said police Lt. John Carillo last summer, “they realized that something in there was very harmful.”

In their lawsuit, the officers charge that Northern Star was negligent in fogging the store all night with Conqueror, a powerful pesticide meant to keep insects from infesting animal feed. They claim “severe injury to their physical, mental and emotional well-beings.”

The officers complained of respiratory problems and burning eyes from the pesticide. They were treated at Enloe Medical Center, and all but one, who was held for observation overnight, were released soon after.

Three of the officers’ wives—Laurie Boyd, Crystal Fryar and Tamara Keeney—are also named as plaintiffs in the suit. They allege that they were deprived of the “service, companionship and consortium” of their husbands because of the exposure.

John Growdon, owner of Northern Star Mills, declined to comment on the case.

The officers couldn’t be reached for comment on the suit, but Chico Police Chief Mike Efford said that the officers had every right to file a civil suit over injuries they received on the job. He emphasized, though, that the officers were acting as private citizens and that the department wasn’t a party to the suit.

Clancy Faria, president of the Police Officers Research Association of California, said that until recently it’s been unusual for police officers to sue in civil court over on-the-job injuries. A new interpretation of civil law, he said, has made it easier and more acceptable for officers to sue. He added that in order for a police officer’s civil suit to be considered reasonable, it has to have fairly unusual circumstances for police work.

"Just because a person is a police or firefighter doesn’t mean that they should be expected to absorb this kind of unlawful behavior into their personal lives," Faria said. "The difference is, did these officers have reason to expect [the presence of pesticides] in this business? Probably not."