Mayor John Byrne said Friday he stands by the town’s police officers, who used pepper spray on a teenager they thought was an intruder, an incident that has drawn national attention.
On Oct. 6, police officers arrived at a residence on England Avenue after a neighbor reported seeing an unknown person enter the house, according to a police report.
When they arrived, they found 18-year-old De’Shawn Currie, the town said, who had moved there recently to live with his foster parents, Rickey and Stacy Tyler, and their children.
Officers questioned Currie about his identity and whether he lived in the home, according to an incident report. Police said the situation escalated as Currie yelled obscenities and threatened violence.
“The subject appeared to be upset, shouting, ‘Where is your warrant? You can’t just come in my house like that! I live here!’” officer Bryan Stancil wrote in the incident report, adding that Currie was sprayed after an officer attempted to handcuff him and Currie knocked the cuffs away.
Currie has not been charged with any crime. Repeated attempts to reach the Tylers were unsuccessful.
Byrne said police have to take reports of potential robberies seriously.
“I think the police department probably responded like they should,” Byrne said. “And it was a mistake that shouldn’t have been made, but timing has a lot to do with everything. This is just one of those unfortunate circumstances, and I’m very sorry for the folks it happened to.”
But the case entered the national spotlight because the teen is black, with some comparing the incident to other high profile cases of white police officers using excessive force on unarmed black men.
In a statement, the town said race was “never mentioned as a concern” in subsequent conversations between the town and the Tylers, who are white. Since the incident, the police department has had “positive and lengthy conversations” with Currie and the Tylers, who have complained about the use of pepper spray.
“Nonetheless, Mr. Currie has made several remarks about race to the media,” the town said in the statement.
“The Fuquay-Varina Police Department does not engage in nor does it condone racial profiling,” the statement said. “At no time during this event was race a factor.”
Town staff, including Police Chief Larry Smith, are not releasing any further statements beyond what was said Wednesday, said Susan Weis, the town’s spokeswoman Friday.
Several neighbors defended the police officers last week in the midst of national coverage, although only one would give her name.
Bobbie Rhodes, who lives across the street from the Tylers, witnessed the aftermath of the incident when police brought Currie outside for treatment. She said she thinks the national attention of the case is an overreaction.
“I would’ve done the same thing, if he had scared me,” Rhodes said. “I carry pepper spray.”
Rhodes and two other neighbors said they had never seen Currie before. In the police report, the neighbor who called police also said he had never seen the teen but saw a black male wearing a T-shirt and shorts enter the residence through the side of the garage.
“I have never never seen him around here before,” Rhodes said. “In fact, I have never seen a black person (in the neighborhood).”
Some said there have been a rash of burglaries in recent months, including at least three at the home where Currie and his foster parents now live.
“People are leery now of being robbed,” Rhodes said.
The police report describes a situation where tensions were high from the start. Police entered the home with guns drawn and said Currie immediately became defensive, according to reports. The situation only escalated from there.
Police wrote they questioned whether Currie lived at the house because his ID listed a different address. Currie told them he had recently moved there and that he was adopted, according to reports. As the questioning continued, the officers wrote, he threatened physical violence.
Stacy Tyler told The Associated Press that police asked Currie why he wasn’t in any of the family portraits. She said she arrived home to find her foster son crying in the ambulance.
“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 told The AP. “You don’t get in foster care and not have scars, and he’s been in foster care a very long time.”
Byrne said he has full confidence in Chief Smith and the department’s officers.
“I think that the police department’s doing a good job,” Byrne said. “I think that this is not something you want to happen, but mistakes happen. And you move on from them. You try to learn.”
Rhodes said the situation has seemed larger than life.
The half-dozen squad cars and emergency vehicles that rushed in after Currie was pepper sprayed and handcuffed were the largest police presence she had ever seen. And she certainly never expected to hear about her sleepy subdivision on cable news.
“It was crazy, turning on ‘Good Morning America’ and seeing your neighborhood,” she said.