State News

Police mistakenly think black teen is home burglar

Posted October 8, 2014 7:11 p.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2014 11:35 p.m. EDT

— Police mistook a black teenager for a burglar on Monday and pepper-sprayed him inside the Fuquay-Varina home of his white foster parents.

DeShawn Currie, 18, came home from school and went up to his room on Monday. Meanwhile, a neighbor thought he saw something amiss in the England Avenue home, which is in a neighborhood of mostly modest brick ranch homes that's had a run of crimes lately.

The neighbor reported called police to report a possible burglary in progress.

"I see a suspicious person walking around in my neighbor's yard across the street," the neighbor told a 911 dispatcher. "It's a black kid, looks like he's got dreadlocks. He walked around the side of the house, looked like he walked in the house."

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 when he heard the commotion of the officers entering home 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 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 ensure 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.

"He did yell at the police and things like that because he felt threatened in his own home," Tyler said.

"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," the statement said.

"I don't see how you could say that," Tyler said, adding that 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.

"Our real goal is to raise awareness that racism still an issue in America," Tyler said. "This is an issue for biracial families and foster families all across the nation."

She said she and her husband have worked tirelessly over the last several months to make Currie feel like part of the family. She said this incident hurt her son physically and emotionally.

"The whole situation has been very difficult to deal with," she said Thursday. "No parent wants to see their child in pain, especially when your child has already been through a lot of things in life. You don't get into foster care without having scars and issues already. We've worked really hard to get past a lot of that, and DeShawn has grown a whole lot in the last couple years.

"To see all that and him in pain and crying, (it was like) the Band-Aid had been ripped off, so to speak," she said.

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.

Tyler said a bicycle was stolen out of her home's back yard a couple of weeks ago.

She 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," she said.

The neighbor who called the police apologized Tuesday for prompting what could have become a tragedy instead of a sudden heartbreak.

Since the incident, Currie and the Tylers have met with Fuquay Varina police.

Currie said his eyes still sting and his heart still hurts.

"I felt like my security, hope, my pride – just everything – was just gone," he said. "It's going to be hard to get over it, but I'm going to get over this like I overcame everything else."