A King County Sheriff's deputy has been fired for “abusing” authority and spraying pepper spray on a homeless person's belongings, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.
Former Deputy Derek DeZiel admitted to putting pepper spray on a homeless man's water bottle in an attempt to clear out an encampment in Fall City in November 2016, according to internal documents obtained by KING 5.
In the recorded investigation, DeZiel said there was a person that was living under the bridges, and he wanted to send a message to the homeless man that he wasn’t welcome there.
“I put a little squirt of pepper spray on the end of a water bottle to deter him from coming back,” DeZiel said. “He's going to touch it. He's going to understand that he's no longer welcome here, and he won't be under the bridges anymore.”
Listen: Investigators interview DeZiel (Warning: Contains some graphic language)
In DeZiel’s termination letter, King County Sheriff John Urquhart called DeZiel’s rationale for pepper spraying the water bottle “concerning.”
“I don’t find the fact that you pepper sprayed the water bottle of a homeless person ‘benign,’” Urquhart wrote. “Not in the least. I find it an attack on the most vulnerable and powerless segment of society by the most powerful segment of society…a police officer.”
DeZiel’s last day was May 5.
During the investigation, investigators asked DeZiel if he thought it was the right thing to do.
“I did not have a problem with it, no,” DeZiel said.
Deziel said he learned the tactic when he was a junior deputy, and it was something he had done before. He said he wasn't trying to seriously hurt anyone.
DeZiel’s partner, Ryan Sprecher, saw the pepper spray incident and reported DeZiel’s actions. In his own interview, Sprecher said he “was kind of disappointed in his action,” and “it didn’t seem right to me.”
During DeZiel’s 24-minute long interview, one investigator, who represented the King County Police Officer's Guild, appeared to downplay the pepper spraying. He asked if it was organic. DeZiel said yes. Then the union representative said, “I know a guy that would put that on his tacos.”
Sprecher did not take the spraying of pepper spray lightly.
“I've been involved, you know, in OC (pepper spray) and it's not fun,” Sprecher said. “I really wouldn't want it in my mouth. Especially drinking water.”