Anwar Peace was rolling a cigarette during his last 10-minute break before closing at a Mister Car Wash in Spokane when he heard a car accelerating full bore, followed immediately by sirens.
The wailing stopped abruptly. Peace, 45, assumed the Spokane police got their guy.
“Then I saw [a patrol car] coming full speed from the Jack in the Box parking lot” next door, Peace said, recalling how the car’s spotlight was glaring down on him when the officer jumped out of the car.
“Naturally, as a black man, as he’s racing toward me I’ve got my hands up,” said Peace, as some officers drew their guns.
Body-worn camera footage shows the tense interaction that ensued, when Peace — a former Seattle police activist with a long, embattled history — refused to give his name but insisted he wasn’t the suspect the officers were after and had done nothing wrong.
Police were looking for Vincent Gardner, a 49-year-old white man wearing blue pants, a blue hoodie and a black jacket and reported to have held his estranged wife against her will with a machete for 26 hours. The woman had called for help from Jack in the Box.
Peace, wearing his navy Mister Car Wash jacket, black pants and gray sweatshirt, told officers to verify he was an employee by asking his supervisor. Peace said he didn’t give police his name because he didn’t have identification and worried that would worsen the situation.
Officers told Peace they could resolve the situation more quickly if he just told them his name. Police left after a few minutes, when they found a jail booking photo of Gardner and determined Peace wasn’t him.
“I’m kind of shocked that I had guns on me,” Peace said about his reaction to the stop. “But due to the situation, I could understand that.”
But more than an hour later, Officer Chris Johnson, who wasn’t among the officers who detained Peace, came to the car wash to complain to Peace’s supervisor about how he delayed their investigation.
On body-camera footage, Peace can be heard asking him, “Why are you trying to get me fired right now?”
“Me? Because you did not act like a normal citizen should do when we’re trying to help a female who had a guy try to attack her with a hatchet,” Johnson replied. He noted that police officers clean their cars at Mister Car Wash.
Peace acknowledges he acted unprofessionally when he lost his temper and cursed at the officer as he left the car wash.“The fact that he tried to use the contract the city has with my car wash as some sort of manipulating tool. … That’s why I kind of lost my lid at the end of the interaction,” Peace said. “I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ ”
“Does that sound familiar?”
The incident with Johnson gave Peace a sense of déja vu, given that he was fired from two different security jobs after confrontations with police while protesting in Seattle.
Throughout the 2000s he stood outside Seattle police precincts and City Hall with bull’s-eye signs around his neck protesting excessive force, police shootings and unequal treatment of people of color. In particular, he demonstrated against the shooting death of John T. Williams, a Native American man who was killed while holding a 3-inch wood carving knife after he did not respond to an officer’s commands. The department ruled the shooting in 2010 was unjustified and the officer resigned.
“I know that officers have a hell of a job. It’s a couple seconds interaction and a lifetime of questions that can happen in one incident,” Peace said. “They have a very hard job and they are under-resourced, under-appreciated. … My activism has never been about being against them; it’s about wanting them to be the heroes I think they should be.”
Peace’s relationship with Seattle police deteriorated quickly around 2003, when he said he followed then-Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske’s car with a sign that said the police chief didn’t care about black people during the Seafair torchlight parade. Kerlikowske had promised Peace a meeting but didn’t follow through, Peace said.
Peace said he was arrested for protesting so close to Kerlikowske at the parade. After he was released from jail, Peace said he filled the chief’s voicemail with messages explaining why he was an activist and what happened at the parade, which were later cited in Kerlikowske’s restraining order against him, Peace said.
The case and press about his relationship with the police chief led to Peace losing his job as a security supervisor at KeyArena, he said. Peace added that the Police Department notified his company’s headquarters in California after he subsequently got a security job at Qwest Field.
“Does that sound familiar?” Peace said wryly.
According to court records, Peace appealed Kerlikowske’s restraining order all the way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he later lost.
During that time, Peace said he developed a friendship with with longtime KIRO radio host Mike Webb over their passions for police accountability, Peace said.
Then, in April 2007, Webb went missing. The Seattle Times reported family continued to receive texts from his phone, but the messages stopped when they demanded a phone call after a month. Seattle police sent a cadaver dog through Webb’s home about two months after he was last seen.
Less than two weeks later, a real-estate agent for the rental home discovered Webb’s body hidden in a crawl space, The Seattle Times reported. He had been killed with an ax.
Peace, grief-stricken, thought the police conducted a flawed investigation and after drinking “four and a half bottles of wine,” he vented to the police chief’s public voicemail. At one point he said, “I’m coming for you,” during the 17 messages he left, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
But instead of getting a charge for violating the restraining order, Peace was accused of intimidating a public servant, a felony.
“I was completely embarrassed about my behavior,” Peace said.
He admitted wrongdoing, pleading guilty. He avoided prison with his credit for time served in jail. And for two years he stepped away from activism.
Peace was last arrested by Seattle police in 2011, while walking to the park that happened to be the filming location for an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.” A police officer, aware of Peace’s history, arrested him for pedestrian interference.
Unable to pay his bail, Peace sat in jail for a month and later pleaded guilty, hoping to move on. In that time he’d been evicted, he said, so he lived homeless at the work site for the John T. Williams Memorial Totem Pole, where he was the head of security.
“I felt my time as an activist was over,” Peace said.
A case for returning to activism
Peace moved to Spokane about five years ago with no intention to stir up trouble with local police.
But, he said, he’s glad the incident with Officer Chris Johnson happened, because it’s a chance to examine department culture outside of a crisis like a shooting or excessive force case.
The incident with Johnson, who has been awarded the department’s highest award, the Medal of Valor, in addition to other commendations, has become an active internal affairs investigation.
Mister Car Wash management has told Peace he won’t be fired or disciplined, he said. Managers also told him Johnson emailed the company’s headquarters to complain about Peace’s conduct and to cancel his personal account with the car wash.
Management “made it emphatic that what transpired was not appropriate,” Peace said. “I appreciate that from them because I was extremely worried about the pressure the officer could put on them.”
Accountability is “the first line of defense against misconduct,” Peace said. “I look forward to an opportunity where maybe me and this officer can chat this out and try to not have any bad feelings about the situation.
“I don’t see myself going on the streets with protest signs anytime soon, but if I have to, I guess I will.”