NUTLEY — When police received a call about a domestic dispute in the Pace household in October 2012, it wasn't the first time. But the use of pepper spray by responding officers resulted in a years-long legal dispute.

The incident began with the mother calling police to say that her two children were involved in a dispute, telling police "[t]his time it's for real."

According to an appellate court decision released Wednesday, the family had already had 55 interactions with their local police department, including 25 domestic disputes. The incidents had resulted in temporary restraining orders against relatives and others.

In the 56th incident, the matriarch suggested that police send extra personnel to the scene because "we're all f[**]ing nuts." The dispatcher told officers the family dispute "sounds like it's going good out there."

When the call got disconnected, the mother called back and said her daughter had hung up the phone, and that they should "lock her ass up."

When officers arrived at the scene, the mother met them outside and said her husband was "out of control" inside the house. Officers found the man inside, and they said he did not follow directions and continued to get louder and would not speak to them.

Officers left the house to speak to the woman again who said she wanted her husband out of the house, as the incident escalated to a point where the noise was disturbing the neighbors. Officers said both the elder Pace and his son were so mad they were spitting when they talked, and that additional backup was requested.

When officers again tried to get into the house, they were greeted by the father and son, with the son pushing the officers back and the father blocking their path while reaching over his son's shoulder in an unsuccessful attempt to push the officers away, police said. At that point the officer used pepper spray on both men.

After the Paces were sprayed, the younger Pace was taken into custody. The father also attempted to resist arrest, including trying to punch the officers attempting to handcuff him, police said. Eventually both were taken into custody and charged with obstructing the administration of the law.

The father later filed a complaint saying that the use of pepper spray was excessive force. A trial judge sided with the officers, saying that the pepper spray was used to prevent the situation from escalating and there had been probable cause to arrest Pace.

The plaintiffs appealed, but an appellate decision also sided with the officers' use of the pepper spray and said they were right to enter the home and arrest the man.

"We find that under the totality of the circumstances, and especially where a police officer was attacked, the use of pepper spray was objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting the officers," the decision says.

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