FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. — Police mistook a black teenager for a burglar and pepper-sprayed him inside the home of his white foster parents.
Monday afternoon, 18-year-old DeShawn Currie came home from school and went up to his room. Unknown to him, a neighbor thought something was amiss in the modest neighborhood that has had a run of crimes lately. Police were called: a possible burglary in progress.
Three officers who were 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 that 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 officer noted the faces of three small white children in family photos on the mantel. "Where's your picture if you say you live here?" Stacy Tyler, who made Currie her foster child in December, said the officer asked. "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 the Raleigh suburb said Wednesday in a 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 . . . 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," police said.
Tyler said she got home Monday to find Currie crying inside an ambulance. He was handcuffed as his face was doused with water to flush out pepper from his eyes.
"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," she said. "You don't get in foster care and not have scars, and he's been in foster care a very long time."
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."