BLM Protest Pepper Spray Incident Moving Toward Trial

Don James Fruhwirth [Photos by Cochise County Sheriff's Office & Zach Bennett/SVNN]

The prosecution of two people involved in an altercation during a Black Lives Matter protest in Sierra Vista this summer is moving forward, court records show.

Don James Fruhwirth has been ordered to appear in Sierra Vista Justice Court next month to learn when he will stand trial on two misdemeanor charges which allege he assaulted Cathleen Tashman by spraying her twice with pepper spray during the Sept. 19 protest. If convicted he faces up to one year in jail but the Cochise County Attorney’s Office has not announced plans to seek incarceration.

Meanwhile, Tashman is scheduled to appear in the same court Feb. 24, 2021 on one misdemeanor count related to her actions before being hit in the face with the pepper spray.

Public records show Tashman, 56, stopped her vehicle in the roadway at the corner of Fry Boulevard and State Route 92, the city’s busiest intersection. She then got out and exchanged words with some of the BLM protesters, one of whom was Fruhwirth, 27.

A short time later Tashman was struck by pepper spray after which other protest participants provided first aid until she was transported to Canyon Vista Medical Center for treatment, according to a Sierra Vista police report.

Charges were not immediately filed as investigators needed to review several videos and photographs of the incident, as well as interview numerous witnesses.

The incident occurred while protesters supporting BLM were standing on one corner while another group, identifying themselves as Concerned Citizens of Cochise County, were across the street. Tashman was reportedly standing with the counterprotest group at one point but then got into her vehicle and left.

It’s unclear what prompted Tashman to stop in a busy lane of traffic, but upon exiting her car she walked onto the sidewalk and approached several of the BLM protesters. Sierra Vista officers who were nearby monitoring the protests headed toward the corner when they saw Tashman’s vehicle stop in the road, but she had already been hit by the pepper spray when they arrived.

When announcing the charges in October, Sierra Vista Police Chief Adam Thrasher acknowledged his support for free speech but said it needed to be done in a manner that did not put participants nor the public in harm’s way.

“The Sierra Vista Police Department remains committed to the support of constitutionally protected speech and peaceful assembly,” Thrasher said. “We emphasize that these activities need to be conducted in a time, place, and manner that is safe and respectful to the rights of others.”

Although Fruhwirth was armed with a rifle, there is no evidence suggesting he displayed it in an offensive or threatening manner.  Fruhwirth has retained local attorney Nancy Bourke while Tashman is represented by lawyer Michael Farro.