Arizona Sheriff Candidate Proposes Using 'Skunk Water' to Thwart Protesters

Despite being named after the small, smelly mammals, "skunk water" is not derived from skunks or any other animal. Karel Bock/Getty

A police officer hoping to be elected Sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County staged a theatrical demonstration of unruly protesters being sprayed with "skunk water" while advocating for the substance to be used for crowd control.

Republican candidate Jerry Sheridan hosted the demonstration to a crowd of around 40 at his home on Sunday, according to a report from The Arizona Republic. Despite the name, "skunk water" does not contain liquid from any smelly animals, but instead is made to produce an unpleasant odor from ingredients including yeast and baking soda.

Four volunteers wearing shower caps and goggles performed their best imitations of disobedient protesters while standing in front of Sheridan's horse stables, reportedly shouting things like "we have a right to protest" and "we aren't going anywhere." Sheridan then announced that an "unlawful protest" was taking place before three other volunteers sprayed the fake protesters with the malodorous substance.

"It's like foul, foul garbage that has been sitting in the sun rotting, decaying in a closed tight space and the door has been opened and that smell just comes out," Kathryn Butler, one of the volunteers who was sprayed, told the paper. "It really overpowering and disgusting."

Sheridan organized the stunt to demonstrate how he would deal with demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice that have taken place in the Phoenix area amid waves of similar protests across the country this year. Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, is the state's most populous county, with almost 4.5 million residents.

Sheridan said that he had been alerted to the existence of "skunk water" by his wife, who learned about it online. He told the paper that he "will draw a very definitive line between people being allowed to peaceably assemble and criminals" but plans to use the substance at demonstrations where anyone has engaged in "criminal behaviors."

"The minute somebody throws a rock or bottle or injures an officer or someone in the crowd causes property damage, then it's no longer peaceful. It's no longer protected by the Constitution and it becomes criminal behaviors," Sheridan said. "That's when I will declare an unlawful assembly and enforce the law and disperse the crowd. And if they do not disperse in the time allotted, then I will deploy the skunk water and arrest those that remain."

Although it has been used against protesters in places like Israel, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office does not currently use "skunk water" for crowd control or any other purpose. Sheridan is running against incumbent Democratic Sheriff Paul Penzone, who unseated controversial ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2016. Sheridan, who formerly served as Arpaio's second-in-command, defeated his old boss in this year's GOP primary.

Newsweek reached out to Sheridan's campaign for comment.