Police spokesman: “It’s not cool to just pepper-spray someone and put them in cuffs.”
[UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, I received a copy of the police report about the pepper-spray incident. According to Toomey’s account, he approached Harris’ car after two people approached him and “explained that there was a person [Harris] parked in a vehicle … and possibly doing narcotics.” At that point, Toomey told the officers, he approached Harris’ car and found him sleeping, knocked on his window, got in a verbal altercation with Harris, and left to call 911 “to report the suspicious incident.” (That incident being, so far, the presence of a man sitting in his car in a legal parking spot.) then, Toomey told the police, Harris drove up behind him, got out of his car, and “attempted to grab” him twice before Toomey pepper-sprayed him, pushed him onto the hood of Harris’ car, and handcuffed him before calling 911 again.
Toomey’s account differs from Harris’ in a few respects. He claims Harris tried to “grab” him and does not mention knocking Harris’ phone, which SPD officers found shattered underneath Toomey’s Hummer, to the ground. He also doesn’t mention attempting to open Harris’ car door, which Harris claimed he did. Finally, he claims to have only pepper-sprayed Harris once, “striking him in the face,” whereas Harris says Toomey actually chased him back to his car while spraying him–an account that is consistent with Harris being shoved and cuffed on the hood of his own car, rather than the Hummer’s.]
A Seattle Police Department spokesman says a guard working for a private security force hired to police the Magnolia neighborhood stepped out of bounds when he pepper-sprayed and cuffed a longtime neighborhood resident and employee last week. “It’s not cool to just pepper-spray someone and put them in cuffs,” SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb says.
As I reported last week, Central Protection security guard James Toomey reportedly pepper-sprayed, handcuffed, and detained Magnolia resident and 76 gas station employee Andrew Harris after a confrontation that began when, Harris says, Toomey approached Harris’ car, which was parked on a street in Magnolia, and asked him what he was doing there.
Meanwhile, Pierce County Superior Court records reveal that Toomey pled guilty to one felony count of forgery and one gross misdemeanor count of violating a no-contact order in April 2004. According to court documents, Toomey was arraigned for domestic violence assault in 2003, and his ex-wife obtained a restraining order against him. Subsequently, according to court documents, Toomey forged a letter on the letterhead of a local attorney’s office, purportedly from a lawyer at that firm, in an attempt to get one-on-one visitation with their son, in violation of the no-contact order against him.
Previously, also according to Pierce County Superior Court records, Toomey had been convicted of negligent driving and unlawful discharge of a firearm. As part of his sentencing for the forgery and protection order violation, Toomey was required to go through treatment for domestic violence and anger management issues, which he completed at a Social Treatment Opportunity Programs in Tacoma in 2005.
In 2010, Toomey successfully went back to court to have his conviction vacated on the grounds that the felony conviction was affecting his opportunities for “employment, and licensing for employment.” One year after Pierce County Superior Court vacated the conviction, in August 2011, the court restored his right to own a gun. In December 2013, Toomey obtained a license from the state Department of Licensing to work as a security guard, and in 2014, he got a separate license as a private investigator—two services he offered out of his home office in Lakewood.
Repeated attempts to contact Toomey directly and through his employer by phone and social media were unsuccessful.
The Magnolia Patrol Association’s website says the reason private security guards are a good alternative to the police is because they don’t have to follow the constitution and can approach anyone at any time, anywhere, for any reason.
“Private security firms have more authority on private property than police,” the MPA site says. “In addition, private security firms represent the property owners. The police, even off duty on special assignment, represent the City, County or State they work for. The police, even off duty, have to follow the guidelines set forth in the 4th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.
“The police cannot stop anyone to ask if they live on property, what they are doing, etc. This is a violation of a person’s Constitutional Rights which could open the police or property owner up for a civil suit. The police are not allowed to speak to anyone unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime may be afoot. Further, they must be able to articulate this suspicion in clear language. Private security can interact with anyone at any time [b]ecause they do not represent the Government and the Constitution does not apply to private security.”
Whitcomb calls that claim “amazing,” and says private security guards are subject to local, state, and federal laws, including the US Constitution. “You don’t get to deprive other people of their constitutional rights,” he says. “[Private security guards] don’t have police powers. They don’t have the same authority.”
Whitcomb adds the common notion of a “citizen’s arrest” is a lot more complicated than TV shows and movies make it out to be, and that if you see someone committing a crime, you’re better off calling the real police and letting them handle the situation. “Our company line is that the only folks who should be making arrests are those who are trained to do so, because it’s fairly complicated and there’s always the possibility that things can escalate” to the point where someone winds up injured or dead. “Just because someone broke into your car, or your house, that does not mean you get to hit them with a hammer.”
By handcuffing and detaining Harris, Whitcomb says, Toomey “deprived [Harris] of his liberty. To put handcuffs on someone, not by choice or consent, where he’s not free to go—this is why detectives need to look at what happened” in the incident. I have requested the police report to get Toomey’s version of events, but as of Friday, it was not available.
Magnolia Patrol Association director Joe Villarino declined to comment on the incident or Toomey’s legal history, confirming only that Toomey lives in the Tacoma area.