- Alex Garland
Will the pepper-spraying Westlake Center security guard—the one who sprayed a black man in the face, instead of dealing with the shirtless white man who protesters said was yelling racial epithets and instigating fights on August 9 outside the downtown shopping center—be punished?
Not by the Seattle City Attorney's office, which has decided not to charge him with assault.
"He appears to have discharged the pepper spray in self-defense," said spokesperson Kimberly Mills in an e-mail on Wednesday.
Raymond Wilford, reached by phone in South Seattle, where he lives, said sarcastically: "Justice's been served, again." He added: "They say the law works for who it wants to."
Wilford said city investigators never contacted him. "I'm very disappointed," he said. "I feel like I should have something to do with that [the investigation], since I was the person who was assaulted."
Mills wouldn't disclose who the City Attorney's office contacted, and said I would have to file a public disclosure request and look at the investigative file myself to find out (which I plan to do).
The decision by the City Attorney's office, as Mills explained it, seems to rely heavily on the account of the security guard, whom we've identified as Stuart Hinds, who worked as the assistant director of security at Westlake Center at that time. (Where is he now and what is he up to? I wrote about that earlier this week.)
According to a narrative of the incident constructed by the City Attorney's office and provided by Mills via e-mail, "A pedestrian apparently not involved in the protest [Wilford] confronted the suspect [the shirtless white man] and, according to the security guard, shoulder-checked [the shirtless white man] in the back and spit on him."
Wilford, witnesses I interviewed, and Alex Garland, a local photographer who caught the incident on camera, said the opposite was true—that the shirtless white man, who everyone I interviewed agrees was picking fights and shouting racial slurs, spat at Wilford and may have bumped into him.
"I guess I'm just randomly walking through shoulder-checking people and spitting on 'em?" Wilford asked. He said he was on his way into the mall, with headphones on. "I don't see why I would do that."
According to Wilford, the shirtless white man—whom the city was never able to identify—spit on him. "He spit on me as I was passing," Wilford said, "and my reaction was to turn and hit him but instead I squared off with him, and pump-faked to see if he was going to swing at me. But he never did, so I dropped it." According to everyone I interviewed, the two men squared off, but they never exchanged blows.
The city attorney's narrative says the shirtless white man left the area, per the security guard's commands before the security guard used pepper spray.
But Garland's photos show him right next to Wilford.
- Alex Garland
"I remember the two men were side by side when he [Wilford] got the full face of pepper spray," said Garland, who also said investigators never contacted him. "The white guy hadn't walked off when the pepper spray was used."
- Alex Garland
According to the city attorney, with the shirtless white man gone, Wilford "directed his aggression toward the security guard by yelling profanities and advancing on him with clenched fists."
Wilford said that's not true. "You can see the difference between when I was about to fight and when I was just standing there," he told me. He said he took a step forward, but only because he couldn't hear what the security guard was saying.
Garland's photos show that Wilford was standing next to the white man, with his arms at his side, when he is sprayed in the face. The guard led Wilford into the mall, stopping briefly to handcuff him as protesters shouted, "You maced the wrong guy!"
Michael Maxwell, Wilford's attorney, said there was "no discernible reason" for that decision to pepper spray Wilford, rather than the shirtless white man—"other than the race of the two participants."
But it was money, not race, he suggested, that explains the City Attorney's decision. City prosecutors are liable under state law to pay all the legal fees of a person accused of assault, if that person is not convicted, he said. And the prosecutor, under state law, "must prove the absence of self defense beyond a reasonable doubt."
In other words, if a person accused of assault has a believable self-defense claim, "That can be expensive," Maxwell said.
Still, he said, "it seems that the prosecutor decided to buy the security guard’s version and to ignore my client’s version... even under the version of events cited by the prosecutor, if it were true, the security guard would be guilty of assault. There is a requirement of proportionality in Washington state. All Wilford did was take a half step toward the security guard with his hands at his sides. Even if Wilford was issuing profanities, that hardly warrants macing, handcuffing, and imprisoning him."
Maxwell has given Valor Security, the company that employs Hinds, the chance to settle out of court with his client, while threatening to file a lawsuit for damages.