Share this story...
Green Lake
Latest News

Green Lake ‘free hugs’ man allegedly pepper-sprays toddler, father

Green Lake is a popular Seattle destination on summer evenings. But that does not mean that the park is without crime. (Nicole Jennings/MyNorthwest)

UPDATE: David Zaitzeff was released from jail Friday afternoon.

If you’re a frequent runner, bicyclist, or swimmer at Green Lake, chances are that you’ve seen scantily-clad exhibitionist David Zaitzeff and his “free hugs” sign standing along the path.

It’s a homemade sign that may seem harmless enough to the average passer-by, but it masks a darker truth; Zaitzeff was arrested Wednesday after allegedly pepper-spraying a firefighter and his 2-year-old daughter when the dad tried to stop Zaitzeff from taking photos of young women in bikinis.

As he customarily does on warm summer evenings, Seattle Fire firefighter Brett Cameron took his daughter to Green Lake on Wednesday to play in the swimming pool and go on a walk around the lake.

RELATED: Tent pitched on tennis court at Green Lake

Cameron said he noticed Zaitzeff with a long-lensed camera taking photos of some of the young women sunbathing in bikinis around the lake. Cameron, who has witnessed Zaitzeff taking such pictures at the lake before, said he immediately knew that the photos Zaitzeff was taking were neither innocent nor random.

“It’s not like a little cell phone camera shot — he was focusing in on this young girl,” Cameron described to KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

The firefighter went up to the women who had been photographed and asked if they had given Zaitzeff permission to take their pictures. They responded that they had not.

“What is he using these pictures for?” Cameron said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out [why] he’s taking pictures of girls in bathing suits.”

Cameron said he confronted Zaitzeff, promising to call the police unless Zaitzeff stopped taking photos of people without their permission. Zaitzeff’s then began photographing Cameron and his daughter.

At this point, Cameron said he threatened to take Zaitzeff’s camera. Zaitzeff reached for something at his wrist that looked to Cameron like a USB stick but was actually a container of pepper spray.

“He sprayed her right in the face and continued to spray me,” Cameron described.

Cameron immediately tended to his daughter, who he said was “inconsolable” with pain.

“The burn started setting in about five seconds afterward,” Cameron said. “It was all over my daughter’s forehead and she was wiping it off but she was getting it in her eyes.”

Passing pedestrians stopped to call 911 and to help clean off the pepper spray. Unfortunately, Cameron said his daughter “started screaming and running and [ran] right into a tree,” receiving cuts and a large bruise on her face.

“As a dad with a little 2-year-old, innocent girl, it’s really hard to see someone hurt your daughter,” Cameron said.

Thankfully, firefighters with whom Cameron has worked came to the scene and helped him and his daughter to clean off the pepper spray. These particular firefighters, Cameron said, think of his daughter as a niece, and helped to set the frightened girl at ease.

In the time that Cameron was attending to his daughter, he said Zaitzeff fled the scene. However, Seattle police later located and arrested him. Zaitzeff was held for two days in the King County Jail on multiple charges of assault before being released Friday afternoon.

Zaitzeff has not been shy about his notorious obsession with Green Lake women. According to a 2015 story by the Seattle PI, Zaitzeff sued the City of Seattle over a voyeurism law that kept him from taking photos of women in short skirts at Green Lake. He even runs a website sharing the photos he takes.

Cameron knows that Zaitzeff won’t be in jail forever, and he wants to see the City of Seattle take action to prevent Zaitzeff — and others like him — from harming residents in public spaces that should be enjoyable places to visit.

“Something needs to happen — the city needs to protect my daughter,” Cameron said. “I live in the city, I pay my taxes, I give back to the community, I volunteer, I do as much as I can do be a good citizen … I don’t want him coming back to Green Lake.”

Most Popular