The company hired to take over security at Seattle's downtown transit tunnel following the beating of a teenage girl last year has been cited for failing to properly train and equip its guards who are stationed there.
The company hired to take over security at Seattle’s downtown transit tunnel following the brutal beating of a teenage girl last year has been cited for failing to properly train and equip its guards who are stationed there.
The state Department of Labor and Industries fined Securitas Security Services USA of Bellevue $14,000 this week, The Associated Press has learned.
Securitas was hired after uniformed guards for the previous contractor, Olympic Security Services of Tukwila, were captured on surveillance video watching as a 15-year-old girl was beaten and robbed by a group of other teens. Those guards were following standing orders to “observe and report,” and sheriff’s officials agreed with their actions, saying it’s not safe for unarmed civilians to intervene in violent situations.
But King County Executive Dow Constantine disagreed, saying he expected more from Olympic. He directed Metro, the county’s transit agency, to hire another company to provide protection in the tunnel – one that would provide guards who would do more than “observe and report.” Securitas took over in April.
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“These guards are Metro’s eyes and ears, and with this change we can have higher expectations of them in their ability to deter bad behavior,” Constantine said at the time.
Securitas has 15 working days to appeal. In a written statement, the company said it believes it has fully trained its guards pursuant to its contract with the county, but takes the allegations seriously and will review the facts before deciding whether to appeal.
Jim Jacobson, Metro’s deputy manager, said the agency is concerned about the allegation and wants to better understand the basis for the state’s findings.
“We have asked Securitas for a review of employee training in relation to the claims in the L&I citations,” he said.
Labor and Industries spokesman Hector Castro said inspectors spent about five months reviewing Securitas’ operations after receiving an anonymous complaint in July.
The inspectors found the guards are expected to approach and contact people who might become violent. The guards are trained to defuse volatile situations verbally and are trained in some self-defense tactics. But they “are not provided the appropriate tools and equipment for the best and proper responses for a subject’s escalation of resistance levels that can result in physical violence,” the department found.
Securitas also is accused of failing to assess what training or equipment the guards might need to protect themselves if such situations escalate.
Furthermore, the department found, the guards are forced to rely heavily on backup from Metro police while at the same time being instructed not to contact those officers directly. Instead, Securitas guards are told to radio their supervisor when situations escalate. The supervisor calls Link Metro, which then calls a King County Metro dispatcher, who sends an officer to the scene.
“They’re required to contact an individual who could become aggressive, and if a situation develops they’re expected to remain on scene,” Castro said. “They don’t have the training or the equipment to protect themselves, and the steps they’re required to take to call for assistance only increase those hazards.”
Castro said many of Securitas’ 55 tunnel guards are former law enforcement officials who are highly trained from their previous work, but it’s the company’s responsibility to provide its own training and proper equipment for its workers.
The attack on the girl at Westlake Station last Jan. 28 prompted a public outcry after the surveillance video was aired around the country. The victim, Aiesha Steward-Baker, who had her own criminal record involving robbery and assault, made an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The video showed Steward-Baker sidling up to the three guards, who stood together and talked. When a group of teens and young adults approached the girl, she appeared to seek refuge by moving to the other side of the guards.
A 15-year-old girl shoved and punched Steward-Baker. The two crashed into a wall and then onto the floor before the assailant kicked and stomped the girl’s head. Others grabbed her purse, iPod and cell phone.
The main attacker later pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and was sentenced to 15 to 36 weeks in juvenile detention. Two other teens were sentenced to one month in detention for fourth-degree assault, and three young men were sentenced to work release or short jail stints for taking the victim’s belongings.