Las Vegas Police Apprehend Pepper Spray Assailant After String of Robberies
Who doesn’t love camping? Just getting away from it all and taking in the beauty of nature, after all, is a wonderfully relaxing escape. While any hard working survivalist undoubtedly earns some time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, they’ll always stay ready–typically, with bear spray, or mace.
This form of pepper spray is a highly effective form of deterring an aggressive animal. A more highly concentrated form of pepper spray, bear spray is more effective, faster acting, and deployable from a further distance.
Although it does require an accurate shot and a good judge of wind direction, bear spray is a universally agreed upon staple to carry on your person in the woods. And while we can’t be sure it would be highly effective against the likes of, say, cocaine bear, we can report that the aerosol has had some success on a species that sometimes likes cocaine: humans. Just… not in the way it was initially intended to be used.
You see, instead of deploying this non-lethal deterrent in self-defense against a four-legged threat, criminals have taken note of bear spray’s ability to put humans squarely on their asses.
Indeed, this effectiveness has been demonstrated to great effect during organized robberies–more closely resembling small raids. And unfortunately, such occurrences are becoming more common.
This raises a couple of questions: First, what can a merchant, bystander, or first responder do to combat an attacker attempting a robbery with bear spray? And what should the informed citizen know about the increasingly organized robberies taking place?
Let’s get into the weeds.
Las Vegas Police vehicles with the world famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. (Image courtesy of Public Safety Collectables via Pinterest)
Table of Contents
Spraying and Preying
Breaking Down The Bad
Stay In The Know
Stay Frosty–Not Spicy
Frequently Asked Questions
Between August 28th and September 30th, Las Vegas police responded to five separate robberies involving the deployment of a pepper spray weapon–nicknaming these events as the “Spray and Prey” robberies.
Yet unbeknownst to the Las Vegas police at the time, each one of these pepper spray robberies was being carried out by a single individual: a man named Christian Phillips.
Now, you might be thinking that all your situational awareness would keep you safe against an assailant like this. Perhaps you’d notice a bulge in their clothing, or note their erratic behavior and take action–the basic things any security minded survivalist keeps at the forefront of their mind.
However, the method in which Christian Phillips weaponized his bear spray was as ingenious as it was nefarious.
Phillips would enter a business, engage the front desk workers, and then ask to use their bathroom. Once inside the bathroom, Phillips would deploy his bear spray into the air conditioning system’s ducting.
This was the case in his first robbery, targeting a Las Vegas boba tea shop.
To note, most commercial HVAC systems do not use filters that are rated for any form of biological contaminants, or for pepper spray particulates. As such, these systems will continue to circulate air throughout the building, carrying the contaminates.
Additionally, many commercial buildings utilize an HVAC system that uses an outdoor intake at or near their ground level, making them an easy target for this form of deployment.
What's more, HVAC filters are often improperly installed and rarely changed at proper intervals. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant or fast food joint, this likely comes as little surprise. (And if you haven’t worked in the food industry, we’re sorry to break this news to you.)
During the boba tea shop attack, all of these vulnerabilities came to a head, as employees began to note an encroaching feeling of unwellness, followed by irritated airways and eyes.
Perhaps suspecting a gas leak, or an accidental spill of a chemical, employees then directed their fellow workers and patrons to evacuate the building. After all, the employees and patrons of the establishment had no inkling to suspect foul play.
While the building was being evacuated, Phillips donned a gas mask and plundered the cash register before making good his escape.
Phillips went on to repeat this process until his later robberies, when he was confronted by a patron at a coffee shop. At that point, Phillips panicked, and deployed his bear mace directly into the faces of everyone in the cafe.
It was at this robbery that Phillips left behind evidence that eventually led the Las Vegas police to him–at his grandmother’s house. All in all, Phillips managed to steal $1,400–a paltry sum compared to the sixteen charges he managed to rack up in these robberies.
Yet while Christian Phillips employed multiple tactical and carefully executed attacks with pepper-spray weapons, other criminals have been less thoughtful–as they often are.
A protester being assaulted during an interview during a demonstration in 2017. (Image courtesy of ABC 7 News)
Spraying and Preying
In 2022, twenty-five-year-old Johnny Young terrorized women in California by pepper spraying them after they turned down his advances. Young, in his attempts to lure women into his self-proclaimed “rape van,” would confront young women outside clubs as they waited for their Ubers.
To explain, Young identified himself as an “incel,” or involuntarily celebate. The concept, which comes from forums like Reddit or 4chan, is generally associated with younger men who have contempt for women, whom they view as owing them sex.
Accordingly, incels often use threats of sexual violence to intimate their victims–yes, that’s right. Men who aren’t able to get laid have decided they are a marginalized group.
What a world we live in nowadays.
In any case, victims claim that Young approached them with a rather unceremonious request to show him their “private parts.” After being rejected, Young would launch into a tirade of vulgar and explicit language, all the while filming these encounters for his YouTube channel.
Not that we’d expect someone with such regressive and disgusting ideology to have much in the way of IQ, but still–wow. Joni Mitchell had it right when she said: “My heart is broken in the face of the stupidity of my species.”
But we digress. It was in Young’s videos that he was discovered to be deploying a pepper spray weapon into his victims’ faces, before scurrying away like the pathetic coward he is.
Thankfully, Young failed to kidnap any of his victims, and was arrested facing twenty felony charges.
Young was not the only aerosol-wielding attacker that year, however. Up in Washington state, two other men were charged with robbing two stores while wielding bear spray. According to reports, the pair targeted a sporting goods store in northern Spokane.
After loading up thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, the duo simply tried to walk out with it: a bold move, albeit stupid as hell. When loss prevention staff confronted them, a struggle ensued, and the suspects were able to escape.
However, perhaps emboldened by their successful getaway, the pair drove to a local Walmart for round two. Consequently, their vehicle was recognized by local police, and backup was called.
Inside the Walmart, meanwhile, the suspects loaded up a cart. After threatening an employee with a can of bear spray, the suspect attempted to flee–directly into the officer’s hands. Bodycam footage captured the ensuing scuffle, wherein thirty-one-year-old Spencer Media attempted to spray officers before promptly being “subdued.”
In yet another bold display of foolheartedly confidence, a man in El Monte, California attempted to rob a family-owned jewelry store with bear spray and fists. However, this criminal underestimated the overwhelming force a grown man will summon to protect his loved ones.
The incident began when the suspect, upon walking into the store, shot bear spray into the eyes of a seventy-year-old man–the uncle of the store’s owner, as it happens. When the owner’s father saw his brother streaked with red pepper spray, he mistook it for blood–and flew into action.
“He wasn’t thinking about the gold,” the owner reflected. “He was trying to defend his family.”
And because the family that stands together fights together, her sister and two brothers also dove into the fray with their father–as well as a customer inside the store. The uncle even ran back into the store to give the criminal a jolting right hook, for good measure.
Ultimately, after receiving a few brutal punches to the face, having his head smashed into a display case, having his shirt torn off, and being battered with a long stick, the man ran off empty handed.
Yet such pepper spray attacks are not just confined to the continental U.S.; our Canadian neighbors to the north have also been enduring a recent scourge of robberies involving bear spray as well.
Pepper spray keychain with Canadian flag streamer. (Image courtesy of Selfdefenseboutique.com)
According to Canadian officials, from 2017-2022, the number of violent crimes involving a burning liquid or caustic agent has nearly doubled in Winnipeg alone–rising from 574, to 1,181 in just five years.
This figure includes pepper spray attacks, with the Winnipeg Police Service reporting multiple instances in the beginning of 2023. Alarmingly, one of the assaults also involved a machete, resulting in a fifty-two-year-old man sustaining “life altering” injuries.
And though such an attack may sound vanishingly rare, the Winnipeg Police Service reported yet another machete and bear spray attack in the West Broadway area in February. Luckily, the victim in this case–a student at the University of Winnipeg–received minor injuries. The student stated a young teenager appeared to be holding pepper spray with both hands when he was attacked.
Staggeringly, the incident is believed to be related to at least four attacks that morning–and yet the suspect was not the only bear spray wielding teen in Winnipeg.
That same month, a fifteen-year old and sixteen-year old deployed bear spray on a bus full of people. After fleeing the bus, the suspects then continued into a shopping center and entered a nearby retail store. There, two staff members were sprayed and assaulted before police apprehended the suspects.
Months later, in July, another incident during the World Police and Fire Games brought pepper spray weapons back into the purview of the Winnipeg Police Service.
It began when a participant in the World Police and Fire Games tried to break up a fight at a fast food restaurant. During the altercation, one woman sprayed bear spray at another, accidentally hitting the intervening athlete. The suspect–a twenty-five-year-old woman–was later apprehended, facing charges of assault with a weapon.
In response to this shocking increase of bear spray attacks, the Manitoban government has called for sharp regulatory changes to the sale and purchase of bear spray.
The changes outline a mandatory ID check, serial number registration of the product for sales of two or more units, and a required disclosure of the customer’s intentions with the product.
Additionally, customers buying bear spray will have their information captured and retained by the government–hopefully allowing for simpler identification in the event of an incident.
The Manitoban government is also lobbying their federal government to review restrictions for online sales of these pepper spray agents.
Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth supported these changes, stating: “As I’ve said in the past, it's far too easy to acquire bear spray, and we welcome any attempt to reduce its growing use in criminal incidents.”
Milk is often used to relieve the symptoms of pepper spray. (Image courtesy of Aaron Warren via Linkedin)
Breaking Down The Bad
One important distinction to be made is the difference between pepper spray and mace, as the two are often mistaken due to their similar effects and uses.
Mace, for its part, is more similar to the chemical-aerosolized version of tear gas. Chemical tear gas contains a chemical called phenacyl chloride, or CN. Traditional CN mace was taken off the market a long time ago, as it was not effective on individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Today, the term “mace” most commonly refers to the brand name of some pepper sprays, and also the seasoning–which is described as a more extreme version of nutmeg.
Rather than CN, pepper spray agents contain ingredients called capsaicinoids. Most commonly known as “OC” spray–or “oleoresin capsicum” spray–pepper spray is most commonly used for self defense or and will affect intoxicated individuals.
If capsicum sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same ingredient in chili peppers that makes them spicy. Readers who have endured the “Blazin” challenge at their local Buffalo Wild Wings after ten beers–then had to use the bathroom–will be all too familiar with capsicum.
Whether dispersed in an aerosolized form, or a gel form, the basic mechanism of injury is the same: irritation. Classified as a “lachrymatory agent”, pepper spray weapons target specific parts of our mucous membranes and respiratory system.
These agents emerged during WWI, which saw artillery shells filled with chemicals like chloroacetone deployed against enemy soldiers to incapacitate them.
As most readers are no doubt aware, pepper spray agents cause a severe burning–and blinding–effect to our eyes. Other sensitive mucous membranes are also affected, as well as any exposed skin.
Here, it’s worth noting that capsicum will also irritate your nethers to an unbearable degree. You see, this humble author did indeed “win” the “Blazin” challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings once… but it came at a terrible cost–would not recommend.
Burning loins aside, not all capsaicinoids are derived from natural sources. There are also synthetic options, such as nonivamide–known as PAVA, or pelargonic acid vanillylamide.
With all of that said, there is one last ambiguity to clarify: the difference between bear spray and pepper spray.
Bear spray, specifically, is a form of pepper spray with a more concentrated formulation. So while a human spray may contain 1.33% OC, bear spray can contain up to 2%. Such a formulation, as the name suggests, is intended to be used to deter a charging bear–not a human.
That means that deploying bear spray against a person can have serious consequences.
Take Officer Brian Sicknick, for example. Sicknick, involved in the January 6th United States capitol attack, was allegedly sprayed with bear spray–later dying of a series of strokes. While the medical examiner could not draw a direct line between the spraying and strokes, he did concede that it probably didn’t help his condition.
On that note, what exactly are the laws on pepper spray purchasing and usage?
How familiar are you with your state or country’s laws? (Image courtesy of Saltsupply.com)
Stay In The Know
Considered a pesticide in the U.S., bear spray is required to be registered with the EPA. Oddly enough, the deterrent can be purchased in states like Hawaii, New York, and Massachusetts–despite standard pepper spray weapons being outlawed in those states.
Following suit, Wisconsin, California, Washington, D.C, and Michigan also have touchy laws on pepper spray. These states either require pepper spray weapons to be purchased from licensed firearm dealers, or have weight and OC percentage restrictions.
By contrast, bear spray is widely available throughout the U.S., as there are currently no legal restrictions on it. Which means, you can use it for self defense against humans. You just shouldn’t–it’s like using a shotgun to shoot a spider.
Perhaps most famously, Dog The Bounty Hunter found himself in hot water for his repeated use of bear spray on his wildly popular television show on A&E. Due to his excessive use of the weapon, experts and layman viewers alike held discussions about Dog’s escalation of force–and if the response matched the threat.
Now, every savvy survivalist should know the laws in their state, as they can vary widely. While D.C., for example, won’t even let you own pepper spray without registering with the police, Maryland allows citizens to carry pepper spray as a “reasonable precaution” to an anticipated threat.
With that said, the nature of that “reasonable precaution” is to be determined by police, a prosecutor, or a judge.
So make sure you’re informed–before a lawyer has to inform you!
A flash mob burglarizes a 7-11 in Los Angeles. (Image courtesy of CNN Newsource)
Leading the charge are members of Nevada’s congressional delegation–which comes as no surprise, as Nevada has seen a loss of nearly $85 million in tax revenue due to organized retail theft.
And while Las Vegas Police continue to battle this surge in organized robberies, the numbers continue to astound. Across the U.S., organized robberies have increased nearly 50%–costing businesses $720,000 for every $1 billion in sales. In 2022, this amounted to an estimated total loss of over $95 billion.
One such robbery in Southern California involved thirty to fifty assailants invading a Nordstrom department store. Using bear spray to incapacitate the security personnel on site, the suspects raided the department store, as seen in this terrifying video.
Incredibly, the mob made off with $60,000-$100,000 worth of luxury handbags and high-end fashion items.
In another case of flash robberies utilizing bear spray, five criminals laid siege to a jewelry store in the Bronx, NYC in 2022. The conspirators broke into the store wielding bear spray, hammers, and firearms.
Once they made entry, the five men began to deploy their bear mace towards employees and customers–among them, several young children. They smashed glass display cases, threatened terrified onlookers with their brandished weapons, and continued to lay down suppressing bear spray.
After making off with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, the men fled out the front door into the streets. Bystanders who had gathered to make sense of the commotion were also bear sprayed as the robbers made their getaway on mopeds and on foot.
Back east, in Riverside, California, a Nordstrom Rack at the Canyon Springs Marketplace was also sacked by an organized robbery–in this case involving at least seven individuals. The group pilfered more than $10,000 of merchandise before dispersing.
Weeks later, in Glendale, California, another flash mob robbery occurred at the Yves Saint Laurent store at the “Americana at Brand” mall. Reports state at least thirty individuals were involved in the robbery.
This time, the culprits made off with over $300,000 of merchandise. Most notably though, bystanders in this case attempted to intervene and stop the criminals. And while their efforts were admirable, they were ultimately wrong.
Let’s consider the right moves in a scenario like this.
Will you be ready to deal with the fog of flash robberies? (Image courtesy of Crimethinc.com)
Stay Frosty–Not Spicy
While it may be difficult for individuals of action like ourselves to see wrongdoing take place and simply standby, it bears reminding that that is absolutely the right move. Remember: your life and wellbeing are not worth risking.
Instead, our responsibility in such a moment is to secure our family and loved ones.
Accordingly, we must quickly identify what threats are being presented to us, such as:
Do the assailants have a pepper spray weapon?
Do the assailants have a secondary weapon?
Do we have the means available to us to escape?
If we can’t run, do we possess the means to fight?
Keep in mind: While we all may want to believe ourselves capable of heroism in a moment of duress–heroes often get people hurt or killed, including themselves. Don’t–be–a–hero.
That means you should avoid the danger if you can, run from the danger if you can, and then fight the danger if you must.
With all of this in mind, the smart prepper identifies a threat quickly and responds accordingly. The smart prepper also has the right tools to combat a threat before it even presents itself–including that of an aerosol attack.
MIRA Safety CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask
The MIRA Safety CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask is the premiere gas mask you’ll want to have on hand for any and all threats, from pepper spray assaults to nuclear meltdowns. With a twenty-year shelf life, you can rest assured it’ll be ready when the threats begin to come out of the woodwork. Proven effective against tear gas, as seen in this video demonstration, the proof is in the proverbial pudding.
MIRA Safety MD-1 Children’s Gas Mask
Unfortunately, criminals rarely discriminate when it comes to violence. So should you find yourself exposed to a dangerous pepper spray weapon while you’re with your little ones, the MIRA Safety MD-1 Children's Gas Mask - Full-Face Protective Respirator is here to keep your children safe. With sizes rated for children from two to twelves years old, your youngins will be breathing easy while you respond to a threat and execute your parental duties.
MIRA Safety P-CAN Police Gas Mask Filter
Last but not least, the MIRA Safety P-CAN Police Gas Mask Filter is the final piece of the puzzle in your bug-out bag. Rated specifically for CS, CN, and OC pepper spray and riot control agents, this is one of the most effective filters available on the market today. Don’t find yourself coughing, wheezing, and incapacitated while having your pockets ran by a criminal–be ready.
A child screams in agony after being exposed to pepper spray while being near a demonstration in Seattle, 2020. (Evan Hreha courtesy of Dailykos)
As savvy survivalists, it’s our responsibility to stay knowledgeable and ready to respond to any and all threats. And pepper spray weapons are currently one of the most widely available chemical threats.
While lawmakers squabble over bills and laws, which could take years to pass, we don’t have that kind of time to wait–the threat is out there now. Never to rely on the government to keep us safe, those of us inclined to act must do so.
Survivalists, after all, are just built different–it’s a fact. We don’t watch the news and think, “That can’t happen here”–because it is happening here.
We aren’t about to find ourselves at the mercy of a delinquent with a can of bear spray. The most troubling threat presented by pepper spray weapons is that they disorient and incapacitate us–leaving us vulnerable to the whims of our attackers.
If we’re now at the mercy of a criminal, where does that place our families? Our children? Clearly these individuals don’t have too much left to lose; their intentions are unpredictable… and they almost certainly don’t care about what happens to us, so long as they get what they want.
Remember: once you’re blinded, it’s only a split second before a blunt weapon could be applied to the side of your head. Who knows how your world might have changed when and if you come to?
Don’t let this be you.
Stay prepared and equipped with MIRA Safety’s wide arsenal of solutions to a plethora of threats. Keep yourself up to date and informed with the MIRA Safety blog, and never allow yourself the comfort of complacency.
Keep your head on a swivel, and stay savvy.
Frequently Asked Questions
While current crime metrics do not specifically track pepper spray assaults, agencies like the Las Vegas police do release annual reports pertaining to general crime statistics. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s crime statistics also give a good overview of crime statistics for the U.S. by year. Additionally, relevant research studies and local newspapers can serve as an excellent means of staying informed.
Pepper spray is made of oleoresin capsicum, or OC. Depending on the delivery medium (gel, spray, foam etc.), they may also contain ingredients like water, alcohol, and propylene glycol. Some forms of pepper spray will also include an ultraviolet dye to help link an offender to the deployment event.
Organized Retail Crime, or ORC, is increasing globally. A report on ORC is available here. One of the main causes is the difficulty law enforcement has in identifying stolen merchandise sold through third-party online merchants such as Amazon or Facebook. It is estimated that ORC cost retailers $69 billion dollars in 2019. This is further compounded by the loss of $15 billion dollars in personal and business tax revenues. Because of this, it is also estimated that the average American family will pay an additional $500 annually in additional costs attributed to ORC. This highlights a critical issue – ORC is not a victimless crime: law abiding citizens pay the cost.
Las Vegas police officers typically do not carry bear spray as part of their standard equipment, as the city is not known for its bear population. Their equipment is geared towards urban law enforcement and ensuring public safety in that context. However, officers in regions with a bear presence may be equipped with bear spray or other relevant tools to address wildlife encounters effectively.
Las Vegas Police recognize bear spray as a less lethal tool that can be employed in certain situations to control and deter threats. While it shares similarities with pepper spray, it is typically more potent and meant for defense against animals. Officers are trained to use it judiciously, aligning with department policies on less-lethal force, ensuring safety for all involved.
Pepper spray, also known as OC spray (oleoresin capsicum), is a non-lethal self-defense tool that incapacitates attackers temporarily. It works by releasing a concentrated solution of capsaicin, the chemical found in chili peppers, which causes intense burning, pain, and temporary blindness when it comes into contact with the eyes, nose, and throat. When using pepper spray for self-defense, it's crucial to aim for the attacker's face, preferably their eyes, and maintain a safe distance. Be aware of wind direction, as it can affect the effectiveness and may blow the spray back towards you. Always check the expiration date on your pepper spray canister and practice using it to ensure you're prepared in case of an emergency.
Yes, there have been a few cases of bear spray being misused in robberies in Las Vegas. Law enforcement is working closely with businesses to enhance security measures and considering stricter regulations on the purchase and possession of bear spray to prevent its misuse in criminal activities. These efforts aim to ensure the safety of the community and reduce incidents involving bear spray in unlawful activities.