Seattle police are investigating after a Westlake Center security guard pepper-sprayed, handcuffed and detained a man while trying to defuse a possible fight.
The incident occurred Saturday in front of the Starbucks at Westlake Center, near a pro-Palestinian rally. Much of what happened has been captured in still photographs and video.
Raymond Wilford, 25, was walking downtown when he passed a man who, according to onlookers, had been heckling demonstrators, flipping a middle finger at them, and also had removed his shirt.
Wilford told The Seattle Times that as he passed by the man, he felt some spray from the man’s mouth. Wilford turned toward the man and cocked his fist. After he and the other man squared off, fists raised, a uniformed security guard appeared.
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In photos posted by Alex Garland at The Dignity Virus, a blog that features protest images, the guard can be seen moments later using pepper spray. While the heckler did not seem to be struck, Wilford was sprayed directly in the face.
According to a police report, the guard said he used the spray because Wilford balled his fists and “took an aggressive step towards him.”
Wilford said in an interview with The Seattle Times that he stepped forward, amid shouting, because he was trying to explain his side of the story, but the mall guard yelled “Stop!” and sprayed him.
“I thought he (the guard) was the helper, that’s why I approached him. But he thought I was the threat,” Wilford said Monday.
Wilford said he thinks he was misperceived as the aggressor because he’s black.
Afterward, the heckler walked away and a YouTube video shows that the guard held and eventually handcuffed Wilford, about the time police showed up. A Seattle police officer shouted at a few of the onlookers to stay back as the guard escorted Wilford into Westlake Mall. Demonstrators shouted, “You pepper-sprayed the wrong guy” and similar comments.
“We will be looking at all parties involved,” police spokesman Drew Fowler said Friday.
Wilford recalled that after being handcuffed Saturday, he sat in a room, was given baby shampoo to wash his face, then was released after about 25 minutes. Wilford said the guard said he was sorry, and a Seattle police officer instructed mall security to release him.
He said Monday he would like a formal apology.
Wilford explained why he didn’t follow through with a punch at the heckler: “I saw the cameras. I’m not trying to catch any charges. Angry black guy, beating up a white guy, blah-blah.”
One question for Seattle police is the guard’s jurisdiction.
Westlake Park south of Pine Street is city-owned, as are downtown sidewalks. The plaza immediately in front of the mall is private, though police sometimes congregate there. Did the altercation happen on public or private property, did the mall guard have authority, and does it matter? Police will consider that angle, Fowler said.
The incident is being analyzed by Valor Security Services, Westlake’s security contractor, as are all use-of-force situations involving its guards, said Scott Born, vice president. He said safety of mall visitors is the top priority.
“After breaking up a fight and giving repeated warnings for the individual to calm down, measures were taken and immediately following Seattle police arrived on site to assist. Please know these actions are never done without warning and careful consideration. It is always our goal to try to resolve all situations as peacefully as possible,” Valor Security said in a statement.