English professor accuses Pittsburgh police of causing her hearing loss

This is a revised version of the item first posted on September 26.

PITTSBURGH—Karen Piper, an English professor at the University of Missouri, has sued the City of Pittsburgh, claiming that its police department’s improper use of of a crowd-dispersal tool has caused her permanent hearing loss and other damage to her ears.

Piper, who brought the case in Federal District Court in Pittsburgh, says that her injury occurred in
September 2009 when she was observing a protest being held during the Group of 20 (G-20) Economic Summit in Pittsburgh.

The plaintiff, who was a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh at the time, says that went to the demonstration because she was writing a book about the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These are two of the world financial organizations whose policies have drawn protests around the world.

Piper, who is being represented in the case by the American Civil Liberties Union, said in her complaint that when police turned on a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) from about 100 feet away, she “suffered immediate pain in her ears, and she became nauseous and dizzy.” The device, a giant speaker that was mounted on a police truck, emits loud disorienting noises and orders to disperse and is used to break up demonstrations.

Piper states that as a result of the incident she developed “permanent nerve hearing loss, tinnitus, barotrauma, left-ear pain and fluid drainage, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and physical pain and suffering.”

The complaint charges that the city violated Piper’s rights to free speech and assembly by using the LRAD on her and other protesters. It also says the city was negligent in using “piercing, continuous, high-pitched sound …rather than short, intermittent blasts for a few seconds at a time that would have minimized the risk of bodily harm.”



The company that makes the LRAD insists that Piper’s story can’t be accurate. LRAD Corp., based in San Diego, contends that at the distance the professor says she was from the device at the time she allegedly suffered hearing loss the noise would have been less than other common loud noises, such as police and fire sirens and custom car stereos.  The company, which was not named in the suit, said that the sound of its product would not have caused the injuries that Piper says she suffered.