The Metro Police Department continues to try to distance itself from private security firmsmost recently, the target is the conveniently titled Metro Enforcement, which uses uniforms and patrol cars that closely resemble the city’s.
Assistant Chief Deborah Faulkner says that the Metro Enforcement’s uniforms and cars “look like ours.” Security guards from other firms also bear a passing resemblance to Metro police officers. Because of that, many of the city’s finest wonder whether allegations of abuse against three off-duty Metro police officers actually were perpetrated by security guards.
Faulkner herself acknowledges that many people confuse security guards with police officers. “Citizens would call and want to file a complaint, and when tracking it back it wasn’t our police officers but someone working for a security company,” she says.
Given the controversial behavior of a few local security firms, Faulkner would probably want to distance her officers as far as possible from private guards.
Case in point: In November 1999, amid surfacing allegations that a security company’s officers were terrorizing local Hispanics, Sgt. Robert Butler wrote a letter to Capt. Rick Lankford of the Metro Police Department’s South Sector about another questionable firmone that had not gotten any headlines. Butler criticized the private firm, Metro Enforcement, for making unreasonable traffic stops, handcuffing suspects, and placing them in their patrol vehicles. Butler did not cite the company for any illegal activity, but he did suggest that the Police Department’s internal affairs division should investigate the firm.
Warning of “suspected abuses,” Butler’s letter predicted trouble. In fact, that’s exactly what police ultimately found. Last June, authorities charged three Metro Enforcement employees with assaulting three Hispanic residents at the Terrace Hill Apartments in South Nashville. According to one arrest warrant, company owner Leroy Youngs yanked a resident out of his car and grabbed a chain around the resident’s neck. Another security guard, William Privette, was accused of hitting another resident.
Afterward, police officials cited the arrests as evidence that they were taking seriously allegations of abuse against Hispanics. The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurancethe regulatory body for security companiesalso announced that its legal division would look into Metro Enforcement for any improper activity.
But when the witnesses failed to come forward during legal proceedings, local and state authorities put the case on holdeven though police correspondence recently obtained by the Scene shows that company officials apparently engaged in even further abuse of the Hispanics they were charged with protecting.
On June 29, shortly after the incident that instigated the arrests, Lt. Bill Sneed sent an e-mail from his home to Captain Lankford recounting what had happened. He wrote that while on routine patrol, Officer Desmond Sumerel noticed a large gathering of residents at the apartment complex along with three uniformed security guards. The guards told the officer that they were asking the residents to go inside because they were violating the apartment complex’s 9 p.m. curfew. The officer told the guards that the residents “were not violating any criminal laws and that this was their home and they could not be forced to go inside.” The guards replied that they merely were asking the residents for their voluntary cooperation.
Shortly after, more police officers received a call about a disturbance and returned to the scene. Upon arrival, the three guards were still present along with about 50 Hispanic residents. According to the e-mail, several of the residents spoke English fairly well and levied serious allegations against the guards.
The residents said that after Officer Sumerel left, the guards threatened and cursed at them when they refused to go inside. A few residents stood up to the three guards who called for help. Youngs handcuffed and slapped one of the residents, while another guard pointed his sidearm at the residents telling them to “get in their apartments.” According to the residents, a female guard hit some of the residents as well and pointed her pistol at some of them. The confrontation also allegedly included “shoving and scuffling” between the guards and residents.
In his e-mail, Sneed wrote that police rounded up a total of five victims and four witnesses. He also noted that while the guards complained that the residents had been drinking, he “never noticed any sign of alcohol on any of the victims.” In fact, Sneed wrote, he understood that it was the owner of the company who had been drinking.
In his e-mail to Lankford, Sneed also wrote that nearly all of the residents thought that the guards were police officers. Residents so distrusted the police that officers had to show them their shoulder patches and car decals to prove that they were different from the guards who allegedly abused them. Besides the official-sounding name, Metro Enforcement has uniforms and patrol cars that look very much like the city’s. Indeed, the likeness between the two companies is so strikingly similar that Sgt. Butler tells the Scene that even he was “confused,” when he first saw one of the firm’s guards. (According to police spokesperson Don Aaron, no police officers have worked for Metro Enforcement.)
In 1999, Detection Services, a local security firm, closed its doors after allegations that their guards were robbing and beating Hispanic residents. And while no charge against Metro Enforcement has been proven, that company too has seen its share of controversy. Last August, WTVF-Channel 5 interviewed two former employees of Metro Enforcement. Both said that Leroy Youngs abused Hispanics “as a matter of routine.” The station also obtained exclusive video footage showing police officers handcuffing Hispanics at the Executive House Apartments on Murfreesboro Road.
At the request of police officials, the district attorney’s office is reviewing allegations against Metro Enforcement. But few expect that any charges will be levied nine months after many of the alleged incidents took place. In the meantime, Metro Enforcement is still in business. In fact, while the company no longer provides security at Terrace Hill Apartments, it still works with the Executive House Apartments featured in the Channel 5 report. (A property manager at Executive House refused to comment about Metro Enforcement.) And while the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance has not closed the case, the department’s spokesperson acknowledges that department officials are not actively reviewing allegations against the company.
Youngs did not return repeated calls for comment. William Privette, one of the Metro Enforcement security officers arrested last summer, told the Scene that he knew of no improper behavior by the firm’s security guards. Pressed for details, he pointed out that charges against the company were dropped.
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