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An attendant at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology sprayed mace at two visitors from Trinidad after a brief verbal altercation on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors, a couple and their grown son, declined to press charges against the attendant. The mace was only directed at the father and son. The family left the country yesterday.
The incident occurred after one of the visitors tried to gain access to the third floor of the museum, according to Harvard police Sgt. William K. Donaldson.
"[The main from Trinidad] attempted to walk up the stairs to the third floor display without paying the admission," Donaldson said, quoting from a police report filed by Officer Joseph Dwyer. "The attendant at the desk called him, informing him he could not proceed without paying."
After climbing halfway up the stairs, the man said he wanted to see what was on the next floor and the attendant called security, Donaldson said.
"Words were exchanged between both parties with profanities used by both," Donaldson said. "The challenged party made a statement and then there was an exchange of personal insults." Donaldson refused to disclose the statement made by the visitors.
When the visitors exited the building, the attendant left the admissions desk and followed them down to the door, Donaldson said. "More words were exchanged at the door and the attendant sprayed mace on the challenged party and son," the police report said. "All three entered the museum which is when the police arrived."
Donaldson said he does not know if anyone was hit by the mace. "What's a mystery to me is that the report doesn't say any medical attention was rendered," Donaldson said. "Usually if somebody is hit by [mace] they have to have their eyes washed out."
Police on the scene made no arrests, Donaldson said. "Since [the incident] involves a Harvard employee, the attendant, it's sort of under investigation," he said. "I think there will be a follow-up investigation which will determine whether the employee went beyond what his job requires."
The incident was recorded in the police blotter as an assault and battery.
The visitors did not have time to pursue the issue, Donaldson said. "However, they did want the matter brought to the attention of the administration of the museum," he said.
Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography James J. McCarthy, who is director of the museum, said last night that he did not know anything about the incident.
Donaldson said he believes the mace was the personal property of the attendant.
The sergeant said he did not know if the mace used in the assault was legal in Massachusetts.
"I would surmise that [the mace] was his own," Donaldson said. "I don't think [the museum] supplies mace to their employees."
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