New Name, Same Game 

As Detection Services faltered, a police sergeant started a new company

As Detection Services faltered, a police sergeant started a new company

Detection Services might have gone out of business several months ago, and Larry Lawson may be keeping an extremely low profile these days. But even as the company’s reign of terror ends, a new security firm has opened up shop—and all indications are that it may simply be picking up where Detection Services left off.

Shortly before Lawson’s company folded, one of his employees, Police Sgt. Mark Garafola, sensed that Detection Services was nearly done for and seized onto what he saw as a business opportunity. On March 5, the Metro policeman was issued a license by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance to operate a private security company.

On state documents, Garafola is listed as a principal corporate officer in Artist Security and Protection Services (ASAP). Though he runs the day-to-day business of the company, Garafola insists that his daughter retains ownership of the firm. ASAP has the contract to provide armed police officers to perform after-hours security work both at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, formerly known as the Nashville Arena, and at football games at Adelphia Coliseum.

ASAP was awarded the arena job in early April, after Detection Services had fallen behind in paying police officers for work done at the arena. At this point, Garafola went to arena management and suggested that ASAP be hired to replace Detection Services. ASAP was then given the arena job—effectively placing it in the hands of a former Detection Services employee. According to Mike Wooley, senior director of administration at the arena, virtually the same officers who had moonlighted for Detection Services began working for ASAP.

Since he set up ASAP, Garafola has created a storm of controversy and has become the subject of an internal Police Department investigation:

♦ Garafola appears to be in violation of a May 1999 general order from the Police Department that prohibits officers from having a direct or indirect interest in any security firm that brokers the employment of off-duty cops. The order came at the urging of former Mayor Phil Bredesen, who sought to combat the internal problems created by officers running security firms that hire moonlighting policemen.

As a case in point, one need only look at ASAP: Before the Scene’s investigation, Garafola devoted considerable Metro work time to running the company. With assistance from burglary detective Archie Spain, the sergeant essentially operated ASAP from his Police Department offices. Among other things, Garafola recruited police officers, sought new business contracts, and set up work schedules during Metro hours.

♦ It wasn’t only Garafola who did ASAP work on Metro time. Some of the police officers who’ve worked for him appear to have “double-dipped,” receiving payment from both Metro and ASAP for work performed over the same time period. This is precisely the sort of activity that Bredesen sought to curb.

Metro Police Detective Charles Hagar, for instance, was listed as having provided security for ASAP at the Nashville Kats arena football game on April 23. Hagar was receiving around $17 an hour, which is the standard pay for moonlighting officers.

According to payroll documents submitted by ASAP and on file at the arena, Hagar worked a seven-hour shift that night, from 3:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., receiving approximately $120 for his work. But that wasn’t the only paycheck he was earning that night. Hagar’s payroll records from the Metro Police Department indicate that after working his normal day shift in the auto theft unit from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., he also put in additional overtime hours from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. For those extra five hours, he was paid time and a half, which earned him an additional $136.20 for that night’s work.

Based on the documents, Hagar appeared to have been working for two people at the same time. What makes the situation even worse is that during his day job, Hagar reports to Garafola in the auto theft department. In fact, the sergeant signed Hagar’s request to be paid overtime at the police department—even though Garafola had to have known the detective was allegedly working the Kats game. After all, the paperwork indicates that Garafola worked alongside Hagar that night at the arena.

Garafola, Spain, and Hagar declined public comment.

In the case of Hagar’s double-dipping, Anthony Bouza, former chief of police in Minneapolis, says that “undoubtedly a crime” has taken place.

♦ There’s also reason to believe that Garafola may have used his office to wage war against people whom he presumed were helping the Scene investigate him and his security company.

Mario Hambrick was a security officer who often referred business to Lawson and Detection Services. After being suspected of speaking too freely about Detection Services and Garafola, he was the target of a strange and inexplicable arrest.

This past June, Hambrick was involved in an auto accident in the parking lot of a Nashville nightclub. Rather than report the accident, the other party in the mishap agreed to pay Hambrick directly for damages. The two agreed to meet June 8 in a McDonald’s parking lot to settle the matter.

But somehow, William Brewer, a detective who works for Garafola, learned of the impending meeting and apparently told Garafola about the incident; Garafola, in turn, “excused” Brewer from his regular duties so the detective could secretly witness the meeting. The result? Brewer arrested Hambrick in the McDonald’s lot for “impersonating a police officer.”

Hambrick, of course, had done nothing wrong. When a preliminary hearing was held in the courtroom of General Sessions Court Judge Mark Fishburn, Brewer stated that he’d arrested Hambrick for having “the mannerism of a vice officer.” Fishburn quickly dismissed the charges.

There’s little doubt, sources say, that the incident served only one purpose: to intimidate Hambrick. According to a former police officer familiar with the case, “By all indications, it looked like Garafola was behind the arrest of Mario Hambrick. It was a conspiracy to shut people up and send a message.”

♦ By all accounts, Garafola is a hot-tempered, vindictive man. As another incident suggests, he may have used his police powers to settle a score any way he can.

There’s no doubt that Garafola had reason to be upset with Larry Lawson: Known for his financial mismanagement, the owner of Detection Services at one point failed to pay police officers hired to work at the arena. Garafola had been directly responsible for lining up many of the officers for the job, so when they didn’t get paid, Garafola took the heat from his colleagues.

But the police sergeant couldn’t retaliate directly against Lawson, since as an officer in the Police Department’s Auto Theft unit, Garafola would have had no excuse for meddling with a private security company. Instead, he turned his attention to Mike Copeland, owner of a local towing company and one of Lawson’s business colleagues.

“Larry Lawson told me himself that Garafola thought I had stolen $30,000, and that was why Larry wasn’t paying those officers,” Copeland explains. And so, on Feb. 17, just days after paychecks began bouncing from Detection Services, Garafola and several colleagues from the auto theft unit descended on Copeland’s Tow Masters operation and opened an investigation into the company. In the presence of four witnesses, the sergeant threatened several times to put Copeland and his wife “out of business.”

That very day, Garafola or one of his workers called in other government agencies to investigate Copeland, including Metro’s Department of Codes Administration, Metro’s Taxicab and Wrecker Licensing Board, and the state Department of Environment and Conservation. Today, Garafola and his subordinates in the police’s auto theft unit have an open complaint against Copeland with the wrecker licensing board—the only such complaint brought by Garafola’s department before the wrecker board in two years.

Seeking some kind of recourse, Copeland’s wife, Roxanne, has visited with Garafola’s immediate supervisor, Capt. Robert Dodson, to explain the situation. But, she says, “Dodson didn’t want to hear what I had to say. He said he’d already looked into the matter and that Garafola had denied [doing anything wrong]. Then he threw me out.” Asked by the Scene to comment on this chain of events, Dodson said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

When informed of the situation, outside policing experts found the whole matter appalling and argued that Garafola himself might well be the target of criminal prosecution. Anthony Bouza says that it looks like a “cover-up” has taken place and that Garafola’s actions are “clearly out of line” and “possibly illegal.”

Gary Sykes, director of the Dallas-based Southwestern Law Enforcement Institute, says this case represents a “clear abuse of authority” by Garafola to solve a “private dispute.” Further, Sykes says that Capt. Dodson’s response creates an impression that the police department’s policy is “to look the other way when allegations are brought against officers.” Sykes suggests that Garafola is “acting very much like a street enforcer” in an “organized crime” racket.

On Sept. 28, Copeland appeared before the wrecker board, which was to determine whether he would lose his license. In attendance that day were Garafola and Detective Hagar. Visibly tense at the prospect of losing his livelihood, Copeland collapsed in the midst of the proceedings. An ambulance was dispatched, and as emergency technicians were wheeling the ailing towing operator out on a stretcher, witnesses say they heard Garafola and Hagar laughing out loud. As it turns out, Copeland hadn’t just collapsed—he’d suffered serious heart problems and spent three days in Baptist Hospital recovering.

♦ Not only is Garafola vindictive, it has been argued by some of his police colleagues that he’s a racist as well.

One huge part of ASAP’s business is providing security for football games at the city’s new Adelphia Coliseum, home to both the Tennessee Titans and the Tennessee State University Tigers. Three African American police officers who moonlight for ASAP have quit the company, claiming they were asked to mistreat the predominantly black crowd attending the Sept. 5 TSU game. The officers said they were told to usher fans out of the stadium immediately after the game and to look for gang activity, fights, and other criminal behavior.

The three officers ignited a controversy with their resignations, which were covered in The Tennessean and on the city’s TV news stations. In the wake of the incident, Metro Police Chief Emmett Turner held a press conference to offer apologies to any African Americans who were treated unfairly by the company.

Garafola told The Tennessean that while his instructions to his officers were not racially motivated, he did tell them to be on the lookout for some criminal activity. “This was a first-time event for any of us, and it was a learning experience,” he said.

To his fellow officers, however, he said something different. In an Oct. 11, system-wide police network e-mail, he very clearly targeted the African American officers who cried foul about his handling of the TSU game. “It is a sad time in our department,” he wrote, “when officers can make false statements to the news media against other officers. The even sadder fact is that these false statement (sic) are supported by other members of the department without any investigation into the truth.”

But the last line is perhaps the most troubling: “ ‘MY PEOPLE’, those dressed in blue that are sworn to protect and serve all the citizens of Nashville, I want to say THANK YOU.”

According to police spokesman Don Aaron, the e-mail was “clearly divisive and only served to stir the pot.” It could further be argued, given the racial tensions permeating the whole incident, that Garafola’s reference to “my people” was clearly directed to his fellow white officers. Regardless, the message was disturbing enough that after the e-mail went out, Garafola was called into Chief Turner’s office and reprimanded for sending it.

Purcell Reacts:

Mayor to form committee

In response to the Scene’s investigation into abuses of Hispanics at the hands of the private security firm Detection Services, Mayor Bill Purcell says he wants to make it easier for immigrants to report crimes.

Purcell asked Metro law director Karl Dean to appoint a committee to study “how we can ensure that our minority population can access the system.”

Many Hispanics who say they were abused did not report the crimes for fear of deportation, and Dean says, “We want to make sure that all our citizens, legal or illegal, have a means to report injustices."

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