Father-son security officers face jury trial for pepper spraying man www.privateofficer.com
A pair of security guards who were charged with misdemeanor battery for pepper-spraying a man twice at a Salem’s Gyros restaurant parking lot in Tampa last July will face a jury trial on Monday.
The security guards are a father-and-son team. The father, Merril Prince, 63, and his son, Michael Prince, 30, said they plan to use the controversial ‘stand your ground’ law as part of their defense.
“I was protecting myself, protecting the property and protecting the people that was inside,” Michael Prince said. “It just went south from there.”
“We do not feel that that we did anything wrong,” Merril Prince said. “We were doing were told to do, asked to do by the owners of the property.”
The victim, Willie Bass, 25, said he did nothing to provoke the pepper spray incidents.
“Trying to leave Gyros and got maced for no reason,” Bass said.
The first incident was caught on surveillance video at 3:54 a.m. at the restaurant located at 4006 E. Hillsborough Ave. The video shows Merril Prince spraying Mace into the window as Bass is drives a grey car through the parking lot.
“No warning, nothing. He didn’t say nothing to me,” said Bass. “He just Maced me and I’m, like, shocked. My homeboy grabbed the wheel and parked my car.”
Prince said he had told Bass numerous times to turn down his music and leave the property. The guard said he feared Bass was going to hit him with the car and that’s why he used his pepper spray.
“Drive thru lane’s behind me, I’m afraid if I back up I may get hit by a car back there,” Prince said. “I stood there, he came close, I reached out and I could have literally just touched him. I shot him with Mace.”
Bass said he went inside the restaurant to wash off his face. When he came out, Bass said he decided to record cell phone video of the guard to capture his identity.
“I pulled my phone out to try and record him saying his name, his badge number, so I could go over his head and go to his supervisor,” Bass said.
That cell phone video is now evidence in the criminal case.
The video shows Bass approach Merril and Michael, who can be heard telling him to leave.
Michael: “Oh, you want to take pictures? You can’t take pictures man. You know what? You need to go on.”
Michael: “I’m telling you right now you need to go the (expletive) home.”
Willie: “I’m telling you.”
Michael: “I’m going to mace your ass again.”
Merill: “That’ll be the best picture he’s had all night.”
As Bass goes back to his car the cell phone video captures more of the confrontation.
Michael: “Go on take pictures, man. You can take all the video you want because you know what? It’s illegal and I’ve already got your tag number. That’s illegal you have to ask my permission (expletive).”
Willie: “Go ahead and call me a (expletive) again, sir. Please do.”
Bass said after he got into his car and started it up, he was maced a second time when Michael Prince sprayed it through the driver’s side window. You can hear Bass coughing on the cell phone video.
Willie: “(coughs) He be spraying me again, dog (coughs).”
Passenger: “He just sprayed you? Want me to drive, bro?”
Willie: “Believe me they just sprayed me again.”
“Shut my door and I got maced again for no reason,” Bass told Bay News 9.
Michael Prince said he deployed his pepper spray because he saw Bass reaching for a weapon beneath his car seat.
“He was reaching under his seat, I saw the butt end of a knife,” Michael said. “So, I Maced him across the chest. He wasn’t wearing a shirt at that time. He was actually able to close the door, start his vehicle up, but then stopped, turned his vehicle off, got out and started throwing up.”
Bass said he had no weapons in the car and disputes Michael’s version of events.
“No reach under my seat. No reaching, my car’s on, I’m trying to leave,” said Bass. “My door’s shut and no threatening move and he’s going to mace me again?”
Tampa police were behind the restaurant at the time investigating a large fight that had occurred. Bass complained to the officers and showed them his cell phone video.
After police looked at the cell phone and surveillance videos, the security guards were arrested for battery.
According to a report, Sgt. Randy Peters said, “This was inappropriate and no legal justification existed for him to utilize pepper spray under these circumstances.”
Attorney Raul Cabrera is representing the security guards. Cabrera said he plans to use the ‘stand your ground’ law and a security guard statute as a defense.
That Florida statute states: “Non-deadly force may be used by a security officer to… terminate trespass or “interference” with property the security officer has a legal duty to protect.”
“It is our belief that they had a right to protect themselves, to protect the individuals that were here and they did nothing wrong when they chose to do that,” Cabrera said.
According the report, Sgt. Peters was skeptical of that security guard statute, stating that he was going to check with “our legal staff,” but was not going to stand by and let them Mace innocent bystanders.
The attorney said his clients were offered a plea deal that would have dropped the charge in exchange for probation and community service but they turned it down because the security guards are adamant about their innocence.
“It is their belief and it is my belief as their attorney that they stood their ground as they were entitled to and as they should,” said Cabrera.
If found guilty of battery, the maximum penalty is one-year in jail.
Soon a Hillsborough County jury will decide whether their use of force was justified.
The security guards said at the time they worked for Certified Protective Services but the company was later sold to Protective Consulting Group.
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