A Westlake Mall security guard is being accused of wrongly pepper spraying an innocent bystander while ignoring a man starting fights with pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
The Seattle Police Department is now investigating Saturday's incident. It started when a shirtless white man began picking fights with the protesters on the sidewalk at the corner of 4th and Pine.
Witnesses say the man became threatening and then got in an altercation with a 25-year-old African American man, identified by The Stranger as Raymond Wilford, walking by. A Westlake Mall security guard stepped in.
Photographer Alex Garland, who came to the mall to document the rally as a journalist, says the guard ignored the man who instigated the trouble and focused solely on Wilford, shooting pepper spray directly in his face.
Westlake security pepper spray & arrest innocent bystander after he's harassed by pro Israel supporter during protest pic.twitter.com/SCf6KRpQ5V— Alex Garland (@AGarlandPhoto) August 9, 2014
A Seattle police report says the security officer told officers he deployed the pepper spray when the man "took an aggressive step towards him."
But Garland, who captured pictures of the incident posted here, says there was no threat and the security officer clearly singled out the wrong guy.
"The guy that was the aggressor was closer to the security guard. The other individual, the person of color, was further away but he was the one who got pepper sprayed," Garland says.
The security guard then grabbed the 26-year-old and began trying to detain him and handcuff him, even though a number of protesters repeatedly shouted to him they had the wrong man.
The security officer ignored the protesters' pleas and moments later a Seattle police officer arrived on the scene and separated the crowd, allowing the security officer to take Wilford to the mall security office.
"The guy saw who the aggressor was and made a decision that wasn't based on that. I can't say why he made that decision, but it was definitely the wrong one," Garland says.
Police took statements from Wilford and the guard, then released both men at the scene. Wilford declined additional medical treatment.
The guard works for the private company Valor Security, which contracts with the mall to provide security.
In a statement to our news partner KING 5, a spokesman says the guard was breaking up a fight and gave repeated warnings for those involved to calm down.
"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."
Seattle police are also investigating a second complaint against Westlake Mall security filed on the same day. Another woman told officers a guard pepper sprayed her earlier during the demonstration, accusing security of using excessive force.
A police spokesman says the findings of their investigation will be turned over to the Seattle City Attorney's Office.