FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. (AP) — Police mistook a black teenager for a burglar and pepper-sprayed him inside the home of his white foster parents.
It was Monday afternoon when 18-year-old DeShawn Currie came home from school and went up to his room. Unknown to him, a neighbor thought they saw something amiss in a neighborhood of mostly modest brick ranch homes that’s had a run of crimes lately. Police were called. A possible burglary in progress.
The three officers dispatched to investigate found the side door ajar and walked in, guns drawn.
Barefoot and dressed in a tank-top and shorts, Currie came downstairs and met them in the dining room.
Not knowing if Currie was a burglar, whether he was armed or who else was in the house, an officer barked orders. Currie tried to explain this was his home. They told him to shut up.
“I did everything that they asked,” said Currie, who is about 5-foot-8 and 200-pounds. “I was calm and being compliant with them until something happened.”
One of the officers noted the faces of three small white children in the family photos on the mantel. Currie is black.
“Where’s your picture if you say you live here?” Stacy Tyler, who made Currie her foster child last December, recounts one of the officers as asking. “He (Currie) snapped. And that’s when he got loud and yelling.”
Officers raked his face with pepper spray.
“Mr. Currie became very volatile, profane and threatened physical violence toward the police officer,” police in this Raleigh suburb said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “In an effort to calm Mr. Currie, the police officer asked him several times to have a seat, which he refused. Mr. Currie became increasingly belligerent and profane and the police officer attempted to restrain Mr. Currie with handcuffs to insure the police officer’s and Mr. Currie’s safety. Mr. Currie then struck the police officer’s left arm knocking the handcuffs to the floor.”
That’s what led to the pepper spray, police said. No charges were filed against Currie.
“The Fuquay-Varina Police Department does not engage in nor does it condone racial profiling. At no time during this event was race a factor,” their statement said.
Stacy Tyler said she believes all of the officers involved are white. Police have not said how many officers entered the home, their length of service with the department or their race.
Police Chief Larry Smith, two police captains and a police spokeswoman did not respond to emails from The Associated Press asking what specific instructions Currie did not follow. Police also did not describe what kinds of crimes had been committed in the neighborhood and how recently. Stacy Tyler said a bicycle was stolen out of her home’s back yard a couple of weeks ago.
Tyler said she arrived home Monday after picking up her other three children from school, running errands and buying them ice cream to find Currie crying inside an ambulance. He was handcuffed as his face and eyes were doused with water to flush out the pepper.
“That was the part that broke my heart, knowing all the work that my husband and I have put into rebuilding his life and giving him a good and normal teenage life,” Tyler said, chatting outside her rented home as a black cat snoozed in a wicker rocking chair on the porch. “You don’t get in foster care and not have scars, and he’s been in foster care a very long time.”
The 29-year-old, stay-at-home mom met Currie during the 18 months she and her husband Rickey lived and worked at the children’s home. She said she and Rickey, a 30-year-old construction foreman, decided simultaneously to bring Currie into their home last year.
They moved next door to a black family in a mostly white neighborhood less than three months ago, Stacy said. The neighbor who called the police apologized Tuesday for prompting what could have become a tragedy instead of a sudden heartbreak.
Currie said his eyes still sting and his heart still hurts.
“I’m getting over it and whatever slowly,” he said. “But there’s still that big emotional part.”