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Witnesses say suspect in bear spray attack motivated by victim’s race, possible developmental issues

A man has been arrested on suspicion of spraying a man with bear repellant spray as a hate crime in Novato earlier this month, police said.

Novato police officers responded on Aug. 2 to a report of a man having been sprayed in the face with bear repellant spray. The spray, although non-lethal, is an aerosol irritant only approved for use on bears, not on people or other animals.

The victim told officers he was sitting on the ground when the suspect approached him, threatened to “sic his dog” on him, and sprayed the victim with the bear repellant. The victim was treated by medics and transported to a hospital by the Novato Fire Department.

According to police, not enough information was available to identify the suspect during the initial investigation. However, the next day witnesses provided details and informed officers that the suspect had made statements that he sprayed the victim because of the victim’s race.

Based on witness statements, officers learned that the suspect knew or came to know that the victim was possibly developmentally disabled, and that the suspect made derogatory statements about people suffering from mental illness.

The suspect was identified as 57-year-old Bret Chappell of Novato.

On Thursday, officers served a search warrant at Chappell’s home and arrested him..

Chappell was booked into Marin County Jail on suspicion of illegal use of tear gas, felon in possession of a tear gas weapon and commission of a hate crime.

Hate incidents can be reported to Novato police at (415) 897-4361 or online at

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