For 15 years, Tom Gore made a good living selling used cars. Before that, back in Texas, he ran his own concrete business. Both jobs, he says, depend on the kindness of the "Yes, sirs" and "No, ma'ams" that pepper Gore's Southern speech.
In the past year, after quitting a job and then getting hit by a car, homelessness has come as a rude shock to the 48-year-old, not so much for the hardship of sleeping in doorways or trying to sell Real Change with an injured leg, but the indignity of discovering that a stranger could pull a stun-gun on him and chase him up a public street -- and that he would be the one arrested.
That's what Gore says happened to him on Nov. 11 as he was selling Real Change near the door of an Albertson's grocery in Seattle at North 130th St. and Aurora Ave. N. He was handcuffed and taken to jail on a charge of pedestrian interference that was later dropped. But officers did not arrest or charge the man who Gore says brandished a Taser in his face that night and repeatedly threatened to hurt him.
The weapon was being used for self-defense, says Seattle Police Department spokesperson Mark Jamieson, which is legal. So is carrying a Taser, he says. No permit is required.
Gore says the incident began as he was standing in the parking lot closest to the door of the Albertson's, calling out "Real Change" to customers who passed him on their way to their cars. One woman who came out of the store around 9 or 9:30 p.m. didn't like being solicited and began yelling at him, he says.
"'Get away from me,'" Gore recalls her saying. "'You all are just drug addicts and alcoholics.'"
Gore told her that wasn't true, and the woman started cursing at him and threatening to call the police. She walked away, but was still yelling at him over her shoulder when, further up the slope of the parking lot, he saw her come face to face with two men who were walking toward the store.
He saw one of the men talk with the woman for a moment, he says. Then the man came running at him and put a Taser in his face. "'I'll Tase you if you ask anybody else about the paper,'" the thirtysomething said, revving the device so that it made a "zhht, zhht" sound.
Gore pointed out that the woman had already left, and the two of them had no quarrel, but it did no good. "I walked off 10 feet and he came up on me again and stuck [the Taser] at my head," he says. He dodged two more lunges to his head, then turned and walked out of the parking lot and up the hill of 130th to Aurora.
The whole way up the sidewalk, he says, the two men and the sound of the "zhht, zhht" were right behind him, but the man never fired the weapon's electrified prongs. They had just reached the corner, and the man and Gore were trading words again, when four to five police officers arrived and separated them.
The police report, which does not include any of Gore's account, relates an opposite story: that it was Gore who followed and was demanding money from the men with the drawn Taser. In the report, the owner of the Taser is described as the victim.
"He pulled it out for his protection," says police spokesperson Mark Jamieson. "He was fearful [Gore] was not going to leave him alone and would become more aggressive" -- the whole reason, Jamieson says, that officers had to respond to the scene in the first place.
As police held him at the corner, Gore says an Albertson's store manager came out and told the officers that he had been demanding money from customers and blocking their way, something Gore denies. "I sold cars for 15 years, so I know how to treat people," he says. "I'm very polite."
The background check that officers ran on Gore, however, turned up a warrant he didn't know he had: It was for drinking a can of beer in public last summer and failing to show up for a subsequent court date -- a problem common to the homeless, who may have no address at which to receive court papers.
By the time officers found the warrant, Gore says, the other guy -- who had at first been handcuffed -- had his cuffs off and was sitting in the back of a police cruiser talking and joking with officers.
Gore was taken to a holding tank at the county jail, where he was booked and released the next morning. At some point before he was taken there, he says, one of the officers threw his newspapers on the ground and stomped on them, telling him that selling the paper is panhandling and that he arrests people for it all the time.
Police spokesperson Jamieson says Gore must have misunderstood.
"There is an ordinance that prohibits aggressive panhandling. I think he heard that term," Jamieson says. "Certainly people can sell newspapers, but yelling at people and blocking their way is [what] led to the problems" at Albertson's.
Gore says the police version of the story makes no sense. With a weak heart and a swollen leg that hasn't healed since he was hit by a car crossing Highway 99, he's in no position to menace anyone, he says. And the police couldn't tell him whose path he was supposed to have impeded, he says, because the woman was long gone.
"I've never, ever had anybody cuss at me," says Gore, who started selling Real Change last fall and tries to share what he can with his four children in Texas.
"For somebody to knock you like that and then to keep on and then to get somebody to [come at] you with a Taser, it's degrading," he says. "You know, we're not dogs. We're not killers.... It was shocking."