Homeowners in Magnolia hired a private security firm, Central Protection, to drive around their neighborhood in Humvees and protect them from property crimes they say the Seattle Police Department has failed to adequately address. Under the umbrella of the Magnolia Patrol Association, homeowners pay about $250 a year for supplementary protection and peace of mind that they have more eyes on the street preventing car prowls, break-ins, drug sales, and other crimes. Other neighborhoods, such as Queen Anne, are poised to follow suit, arguing that the extra private guards keep them safer than police alone. (Magnolia Patrol president Joe Villarino did not respond to questions about Central Protection.)
Earlier this month, however, an incident in which a Central Protection guard named James Toomey pepper-sprayed, handcuffed, and detained a convenience-store clerk (a Magnolia resident who had recently started living in his car) called into question whether the private patrols were keeping residents safe, or victimizing innocent bystanders in the war between neighbors and property criminals. After the incident, I reported that Toomey was convicted of a felony, forgery, and violating a domestic-violence protection order, a misdemeanor, related to DV charges by his ex-wife, and KIRO reported that he had been charged with assault for pepper-spraying two teenagers in Tacoma.
Now, a review of court documents from across the Puget Sound region reveals that many (at least seven) of Central Protection’s 24 employees (identified as such by a state Department of Licensing database) have extensive criminal records, including charges of sexual assault, domestic violence, resisting arrest, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The sheer number of drug and alcohol charges, not all of which are included here, is noteworthy because one of the primary concerns expressed by homeowners in the press, on social media, and in public meetings is the fact that people, usually homeless people, are using drugs and alcohol in their neighborhoods—and committing crimes like petty theft to get their next fix. Yet many of the people those homeowners have hired to protect them have significant drug- and alcohol-related criminal histories themselves.
What follows is a partial accounting of the criminal records of current Central Protection employees, many of whom are patrolling Magnolia, keeping it “safe,” today.
Except in the case of Central Protection owner Denis Kurdija, I have kept the individual security guards anonymous because they are not currently involved in any disputes related to their work patrolling neighborhoods on behalf of organizations like the MPA. Kurdija did not return a call for comment.
Kurdija, the Central Protection owner, was arrested for sexual assault after a former employee at the Belltown nightclub he owns, the Sarajevo Lounge, called 911 late one night in 2013. According to a Seattle police report, Kurdija allegedly invited the woman and a female friend to his apartment near the club, invited her into his bedroom, locked the door and, according to the report “threw her on the be [and] tried to kiss and feel her up. The alleged victim told police she told Kurdija “no” and tried to leave, but he grabbed her by the throat, “told her to leave and not contact him again, [and] then shoved her away by the throat.” The report goes on to recount a similar scene in the club itself later that night, when the woman and her friend returned to Sarajevo Lounge to find their friends; at that point, the report says, the woman said Kurdija “grabbed her again by the throat and told security to escort her from the club.” She called police shortly thereafter. (The friend gave a nearly identical account of the night’s events to police.)
Kurdija was arrested for assault and released for $3,000 bail. He pled not guilty and a no-contact order was approved in August, and eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor, which allowed him to stay out on probation as long as he went to treatment (what kind is unspecified in the available court records) and didn’t violate the terms of his probation; although court records indicate he didn’t finish treatment in time and indeed “fell asleep in class,” he eventually did and his case was finally dismissed last month.
Kurdija pled guilty to carrying a concealed gun without a license in 2010. He was also charged with using drug paraphernalia in Snohomish County in 2008, but that charge was dropped.
But it isn’t just Kurdija who brings a criminal history to Magnolia (and other neighborhood) streets. Many of his employees have records that would likely disqualify them from actual police work, according to Seattle Police Department spokesman Sean Whitcomb, including DUIs, assaults, and allegations of domestic violence.
One Central Protection employee, whom we’ll call Tom, 38, was in trouble with local law enforcement as a young man as far back as 1997, when he was charged with resisting arrest and being a minor in possession of alcohol, as well as unlawful possession of a weapon, in Lynnwood. (He pled guilty to the latter charge and the former was eventually dismissed). Also that year, he was charged separately with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was caught with pot and, presumably, a pipe again later that year and found guilty of possession. A few years later, in 2001, he was caught driving with a suspended license and paid a fine.
These old charges are relevant because in 2008, when he was about 31, Tom was charged with driving under the influence, which was later reduced to negligent driving. A few years later, in 2013, he was convicted of still another DUI, after an officer saw him weaving from side to side on the road, pulled him over, and “observed the driver’s watery bloodshot eyes as well as the obvious odor of intoxicants and marijuana emanating from within his vehicle,” according to the police report.
Because it was his second offense, Tom was given a suspended year-long sentence, (he served a little over three weeks, according to court records) and was required to wear an ankle bracelet, go through an alcohol assessment and treatment, use an ignition interlock device on his car, and attend a victims’ impact panel. He was put on work release and ordered not to use drugs or alcohol on October 14, 2015.
Tom, according to court records, violated those terms almost immediately, testing positive for cocaine on December 1, 2015, which landed him back in jail. He is now back on patrol for Central Protection.
• Another Central Protection employee—we’ll call him Mark—who is 33, was charged with DUI in 2001 and required to undergo a drug and alcohol assessment as a condition of his release before trial. (He was also charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol, though that charge was dismissed).
After failing to go in for his assessment and then failing to show up in court (he said he was sick), a warrant was issued for his arrest and he bailed out for $1,000. Eventually, he pled guilty to the DUI but then failed to appear again, claiming he had taken the wrong bus. He failed to show up a third time (his attorney said he didn’t know why he wasn’t there), was booked in the Issaquah jail, and bonded out for $5,000 this time. Finally, he was sentenced and required to complete a six-month drug treatment program, go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, use an ignition interlock device, undergo periodic drug and alcohol tests, and pay a $1,355 fine.
Court records indicate that he never did pay the fine, which was still in collections ten years later, when the case was dismissed.
In 2004, Mark was again charged with driving under the influence in Renton, and pled guilty to negligent driving with the condition that he would attend AA meetings and undergo alcohol evaluation.
In 2007, Mark was charged in Kirkland with driving with a suspended license and again repeatedly failed to show up for court, resulting in multiple warrants for his arrest and escalating bail after he failed to show up to serve his 30-day jail sentence. That verdict required him to install an ignition interlock device in his car, to abstain from alcohol and drugs, to undergo an assessment for alcohol dependence, and other conditions, which he did not do. Eventually, he served some jail time, agreed to go through a 12-month treatment program and attend AA meetings, but also failed repeatedly to comply with those requirement, according to Kirkland court records. He also failed again, repeatedly, to show up in court, boosting his bail at one point to $15,000—an unusually high bail for a DUI case. That case was finally closed in 2013 after Mark completed his required jail time.
In the meantime, however,, in 2012, Mark had been jailed again in Renton for failing to have the required ignition interlock device and for driving with a suspended license (which had been suspended two years earlier for unpaid tickets) after causing an accident and leaving the scene; Mark was also ticketed for following too closely and for having no insurance.
• A different Central Protection employee, whom I’ll call Arthur, 45, was arrested and charged with domestic violence assault and issued a no-contact order in 1998; that case was dismissed when the woman who accused Arthur of domestic violence declined to testify against him and asked to have the order withdrawn (a relatively common occurrence in domestic violence cases when the defendant and the accuser are in an ongoing relationship). Since then, his record has been relatively clean except for traffic violations.
• Another Central Protection employee, Dan, 27, was arrested in 2010 for driving under the influence while speeding, and pled guilty to reckless driving in 2011. As a condition of his plea, his license was suspended, and he was subsequently charged with driving with a suspended license. In a separate case in Kitsap County for which most records have been destroyed, he was charged with malicious mischief in 2011 and pled guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge.
• Finally, yet another Central Protection employee, Todd, 24, was the subject of a sexual-assault protection order by an ex-girlfriend, who was 14 at the time (Todd was 18) and claimed that Todd was harassing her and her family and would not leave her alone. In the request for the order, which was granted after a Snohomish County Superior Court judge determined that “by a preponderance of the evidence that a sexual assault has occurred,” the parents said they had ordered the girl not to see the older teenager because of the “age gap and his academic, legal … history [ellipsis in original]” and that he had manipulated her emotionally and given her an STD. In statements supporting the protection order, the girl’s friends described him as “dangerous,” threatening, and verbally abusive.
Also in 2011, Todd was charged with resisting arrest and with being a minor in possession of alcohol—specifically, a bottle of vodka he had set down on the pavement outside a large party in Marysville.
This is by no means a comprehensive account of the criminal records of all Central Protection employees. A few employees were hard to identify in court records because they have common names, and many records were no longer available or are still being produced through the public-records process. Cumulatively, though, the extensive criminal records of some employees of this private security firm are noteworthy and could give some residents of Magnolia, as well as other neighborhoods that are thinking about hiring private security guards to “supplement” protection by Seattle police, pause. Perhaps the $250,000 Magnolia residents reportedly spend on their private security force would be better spent funding shelter and services for the homeless population in their neighborhood.
Asked about SPD’s own hiring requirements and background-check process, SPD’s Whitcomb says new police hires go through a “meticulous” background check that takes “weeks, sometimes longer, and that is because we want to make sure we are getting the best candidates possible.” SPD hiring standards automatically disqualify any applicant who has gotten a DUI within the past five years, any felony conviction, or any domestic-violence conviction, but Whitcomb says the department can also exclude candidates for other factors, such as multiple DUIs that are more than five years in the past.
“When we’re talking about criminal history, it doesn’t have to be a conviction,” Whitcomb says. “If someone is involved in a number of different events but not convicted or not arrested, these are things that will be weighed as they seek employment with us. … With domestic violence, let’s say it wasn’t a conviction but it resulted in an arrest and perhaps charged, that would be scrutinized closely.” Having two or three DUIs on your record, no matter how long ago, “would probably be a disqualifier” as well, Whitcomb says.
Whitcomb says he can’t comment on the hiring practices of a separate business, but adds that, in general, “Anyone who is conducting security in the city does have to understand that the law applies to everyone. There’s no special dispensation for uniformed security.”