LOWER MANHATTAN — Women who were pepper-sprayed by police at an anti-Wall Street protest near Union Square on Saturday were temporarily blinded and could not identify the officer who sprayed them, a volunteer medic who treated them said Monday.
"All the girls said they couldn't pick [the officer] out of a lineup," said Robert Grodt, 24, an activist who hitchhiked from California to help treat injured protesters and said he was alarmed by the incident.
"All they saw was — " and Grodt broke off, putting out his hand and miming pepper spray.
A widely circulated video of the incident shows police rounding up protesters using orange netting. Suddenly, a higher-ranked, white-shirt officer approaches the protesters, sprays several women in the face and turns and walks away.
"They were screaming," Grodt said of the women who were hit with the pepper spray. "A lot got it in their mouth, down their throat…. It was completely unprovoked."
On Monday, an NYPD spokeswoman said only that the spraying was "necessary."
When the pepper spraying happened, the women were marching back Downtown from Union Square with hundreds of other Occupy Wall Street protesters, many of whom have been camped out in lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park since Sept. 17.
The official Occupy Wall Street blog posted the alleged identity of the senior NYPD officer who sprayed the protesters, after the officer's name surfaced on another blog.
Grodt said he did not see the officer's face clearly enough to identify him.
Grodt was standing across the street when the pepper spraying happened and ran over to the injured women to begin flushing their eyes and skin with a Maalox solution, which counteracts the acidity of the pepper spray. Grodt said he always carries a homemade Maalox solution with him in a water bottle when he works at protests, precisely for this purpose.
One of the most severely affected women had chemical burns on her chest and was unable to open her eyes for 15 minutes, said Grodt, who works in nonprofits and political campaigns when not volunteering at protests.
During Saturday afternoon's march, about 80 people were arrested on charges including blocking traffic, obstructing governmental administration and assaulting a police officer.