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Charges possible in LA Walmart pepper spraying

Los Angeles police Detective Lt. Tim Torsney provides details of the investigation.

Police may seek charges against the woman whose use of pepper spray in a scrum with bargain seekers at a Los Angeles Walmart became a national talking point.

Los Angeles police Detective Lt. Tim Torsney told reporters late Monday afternoon that the 32-year-old woman, whose name hasn't been released, was a suspect in the "unlawful use of O.C. spray." 

"O.C." stands for oleoresin capsicum, an extract of superhot chili peppers. Its use in spray form as a crowd-control agent has focused attention on police response to Occupy Wall Street protests in several U.S. cities.

The incident seized public attention and held it through the weekend as a symbol of the annual post-Thanksgiving consumer frenzy that traditionally opens the Christmas shopping season.

Describing a "chaotic situation," Torsney said, "We need to do something better as a society to control ourselves."

The incident occurred just after 10 p.m. Thursday at an early Black Friday sale at a Walmart in Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. Fourteen people have come forward who either were directly sprayed or were exposed to the stinging chemical, and as many as 10 others may have been exposed, Torsney said.

Torsney said police would forward the case to the district attorney for possible charges against the woman, who turned herself in Friday night. She refused to answer questions and was released. 

"If you use O.C. spray for anything other than self-defense, it could be a felony or it could be a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances," Torsney said. 

That decision is up to the district attorney, he said, but the key determiner is "the suspect's state of mind at the time the incident took place."

Detective Michael Fesperman said at the news conference that two separate groups of shoppers were trying to get to a pallet of Xbox games. The suspect may have gotten caught up in the melee and may not have meant to use the spray as a weapon, he said.

"This may have been a case of self-preservation," he said.