By Tiffany Jones | June 18, 2020 at 7:56 PM EDT – Updated June 20 at 3:36 AM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A man pepper sprayed in the face by a New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputy disputes the claim that the use of force against him was necessary.
Denny Best can be seen in a Facebook live video trying to clear protesters out of the street when he is pepper sprayed by a deputy unprovoked at around the 57-minute mark.
Best says he’s known by law enforcement as someone who helps to keep the peace, and has been working with officers for seven or eight years working to keep protests peaceful, as he was trying to do Tuesday night when he was pepper sprayed directly.
“I’ve actually gone through law enforcement de-escalation, so they know me,” said Best. “I think it proves our point that there’s considerable problems with law enforcement, that they would come up to somebody who was peaceful and who was trying to de-escalate the situation and do that to somebody like me.”
Best says protesters called him because of his de-escalation training, and claims everything was peaceful until law enforcement began shoving. He says the protesters police themselves, and the law enforcement presence was not necessary.
Lieutenant Jerry Brewer with NHCSO tells WECT that body camera footage showed the moments leading up to the incident, and it was clear the deputy was shoved in the commotion but it is not clear by whom.
In the Facebook live video, a deputy can be seen in a shoving match with a protester who is not Best before the pepper spray is used.
“I know I personally never spoke to law enforcement that night, I never touched law enforcement and I never came close to law enforcement,” said Best.
Sheriff’s office defends use of pepper spray
Lt. Brewer says the pepper spray was used to get the crowd to disperse, after protesters became aggressive as a member of the group was taken into custody.
“It did exactly what it was supposed to do,” said Lt. Brewer, of the pepper spray dispersing the crowd. “They were given multiple warnings, they didn’t like that one of the people were being arrested. They became hostile.”
When asked why Best was pepper sprayed, Lt. Brewer claimed it was because he was part of the crowd that had advanced toward law enforcement.
Best says most of the time, he had his back towards officers helping to get the crowd off the street and maintaining distance by staying 5-6 feet away. He says the deputy had to approach him in order to pepper spray him.
“He walked up to me and sprayed me. At that point, I was not doing anything aggressive or anything intimidating to law enforcement,” said Best. “I was actively trying to get protesters up onto the sidewalk. And I think it was an unjustifiable use of force by the New Hanover County deputy.”
When pressed that Best did not appear to have done anything prior to being pepper sprayed, Lt. Brewer insisted that the video clip sent to WECT does not show what happened before the deputy used the pepper spray.
WECT has reached back out to NHCSO and sent the full Facebook live video for comment.
The press release from the Wilmington Police Dept. stated that only one person had been pepper sprayed.
When asked if more than one person had been sprayed, Lt. Brewer indicated several people might have felt the effects due to the aerosol nature of the spray.
Best says he knows of at least two other people who were sprayed.
NHCSO could not say if Best was the one referred to in the press release from WPD as having shoved the deputy.
Best says he plans to file a complaint and lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.
Evan Pye Facebook Live Tuesday night protest video
Full interview: Denny Best shares account of Tuesday night’s protest to WECT reporter Bryant Reed
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