A Westlake Center mall guard who pepper-sprayed a man in the face Aug. 9 won’t face criminal charges, the Seattle City Attorney’s office announced Thursday afternoon.
The incident, captured in images that were posted online, happened outdoors during a pro-Palestinian rally, where a shirtless man was heckling and jostling demonstrators. A passerby, Raymond Wilford, 26, of Seattle, was walking near the Starbucks and recalls that he felt spray from the heckler’s mouth. Wilford turned, as if about to throw a punch, but did not. The mall guard yelled at the two men to stop, and both turned to face him. Moments later the guard sprayed Wilford, and the other man walked away.
Wilford told The Seattle Times he believes the mall guard was predisposed to consider him the aggressor, because Wilford is black. The heckler is white. Pictures of the incident were published online by Alex Garland, a Seattle photographer who chronicles public protests.
The city attorney’s update Thursday says Wilford “directed his aggression toward the security guard by yelling profanities and advancing on him with clenched fists.” In an Aug. 11 interview with The Seattle Times, Wilford said he stepped forward merely to make himself heard, over the noise on the street.
The city attorney’s statement concluded: “With respect to the security guard, he appears to have discharged the pepper spray in self-defense. Inasmuch as this defense has to be evaluated from the perspective of the defendant and the prosecution would have to disprove this defense beyond a reasonable doubt, an assault charge against him is not tenable.”
Right after the spraying, police arrived and told demonstrators to stay back, while the guard handcuffed Wilford and took him into the mall, a YouTube video shows. Onlookers shouted “you pepper-sprayed the wrong guy” and similar remarks. Wilford was released 20 to 30 minutes later.
The guards there work for Georgia-based Valor Security Services, which said after the incident its employee first issued several warnings.
Wilford said in a brief phone interview Thursday that if he were ever to pepper-spray somebody along the street, he would be presumed guilty. “It’s pretty much the way the law works. It works in favor of who it wants,” he said.
Wilford’s attorney, Michael Maxwell, said prosecutors should file an assault charge, and let a jury decide whether the guard acted in self-defense. Wilford’s right wrist was injured after the handcuffing, and a civil lawsuit may be filed against Valor Security, his attorney said.