After city crews cleared a camp of protesters and homeless people from Cal Anderson Park Tuesday, the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation hired the private security firm Jaguar Security to “have a presence in the park overnight and to continue to remind people that the park remains closed,” a department spokesperson confirmed in an email Wednesday.
Cal Anderson Park has been officially closed since June 30, which the city says is necessary to make repairs from ongoing protests. However, the park is regularly used by people exercising and walking dogs and has become a hub for some protesters. People living homeless have also long slept in the park.
In recent weeks, a camp grew in the park, where protesters gathered for marches, handed out supplies like goggles and helmets and occupied a previously locked and boarded-up city rental facility to distribute food to people living in the park. For the second time in a month, police and parks staff cleared the camp Tuesday.
Later Tuesday night, however, a group of protesters had returned to the park. When three security guards arrived, the group shouted at them to leave and followed them through part of the park, video shows. The guards, concerned for their safety, eventually left the park and do not plan to return, said a man identifying himself as the owner of the security firm.
Seattle Parks and Recreation spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said the city planned to pay $85 per hour per guard each night, with four guards working from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for a total of $3,400 per night. The department did not respond Wednesday to a request for a copy of its contract with Jaguar Security; on Thursday, the department said it did not yet have a contract in place. The Federal Way-based security company was formed in 2005, according to state business records.
“We planned to use Jaguar Security to provide a presence in the park overnight, but no duration was set, as we plan to reassess the needs of the park daily,” Schulkin said in an email.
The parks department employs Park Rangers, who are not sworn law enforcement officers and are not armed, but can issue warnings, citations and trespass warnings. In Alki, after a drive-by shooting last month, the department planned to pay for three Seattle police officers to oversee nightly closures at Alki Beach, though the plan was later put on hold. Security guards from the company Seattle’s Finest work at Alki Beach on some evenings to assist with closing the beach, according to the parks department.
Separately, on Capitol Hill, another private security company, Iconic Global, has drawn attention after being hired by businesses in the area. The company’s owner told Capitol Hill Seattle Blog last month his teams had started following protests and marches.
Protests have been ongoing in Seattle since late May, with near-nightly demonstrations in recent weeks that begin at Cal Anderson Park and sometimes involve protesters engaging in property damage like breaking windows and setting fires. (Separate protests on many mornings and evenings have not included property damage.)
After Tuesday’s clearing of Cal Anderson Park, police said they found a machete, a hatchet, homemade spike strips, an unexploded mortar and makeshift shields in a tent in the park. Shields have become common at protests here and in Portland. A group that has handed out protest supplies in the park said in a Twitter message it did not have weapons.
Seattle police on Tuesday also arrested a man near the park who federal prosecutors say used a slingshot to shoot a firefighter in the chest with a ball bearing during a protest in Portland.
Reached by phone, a man who identified himself as the owner of Jaguar Security but declined to provide his name said he was contacted by the city several days ago about providing security at Cal Anderson Park. He said he has done security work for the city in the past at Magnuson Park and city reservoirs, but would not discuss details of his contract with the city.
The man said he and two other armed guards went into the park Tuesday night. A group, which included people with “poles and sticks,” quickly approached, questioned why they were there, shouted obscenities and shone a light toward them that prevented them from seeing the group, he said. Worrying for the guards’ safety, he said they called 911 and walked out of the park to the sidewalk.
“We didn’t issue any directive. We didn’t tell anyone to leave the park. We didn’t get the chance to,” he said.
In video from the park Tuesday night, shot by a livestreamer who often uses a camera mounted on a pole, three guards can be seen in the park approaching a crowd of about 40 to 50 people. Soon after, some people from the group, mostly dressed in black, can be seen following the guards, shouting at them to “move back” and shining a flashing light toward them, until the guards reach another area of the park closer to 11th Avenue and the crowd turns back.
The video shows the guards then walk through the park toward the entrance and out to the sidewalk on 11th. Several people later approach them but it’s not clear what was said.
Later in the night, the video shows, the group of protesters marched from the park to the East Precinct, where some threw garbage and two flaming objects at the precinct.
At Cal Anderson, the city’s instructions to Jaguar Security “were to just tell people we can’t have you in the park,” said the man who identified himself as the owner. The guards, who were each over 56 years old, carried guns but did not pull them on the group, he said. “We didn’t go out there with young muscle-headed guys ready to fight,” he said.
He does not plan to return to the park. “They cost a minority-owned company a contract,” said the man, who is Black. “They cost people their jobs.”
The man said police would not come into the park to assist the guards. In a statement, the Seattle Police Department said a security guard called 911 around 8:30 p.m. to report a verbal disturbance with a crowd in the park and a department supervisor later contacted the guard to “discuss the disturbance and affirm that SPD was available to respond to life-threatening emergencies.”
At another point on Tuesday night, police vehicles could be seen on video driving around the park with lights, and sometimes sirens, on.
Amid the protests, Seattle Parks and Recreation has also started a “community conversation and vision for Cal Anderson Park” which includes online discussions and surveys.
In the park, gardens built during the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) still remain. Marcus Henderson, a gardener who started some of the plots, watched as police and parks staff cleared the park Tuesday and expressed skepticism about the “community conversation.”
Some staff at the parks department “seem way over capacity” during the discussions, Henderson said. “We’re talking about race and inequity. We’re not just talking about a park.”
The department says it plans to “identify short term action items and long-term strategies to enhance the sense of belonging in the park.”