Tag: Central Protection Services

Employees at Magnolia Private-Security Firm Have Extensive Criminal Histories

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.

2AnuDXG

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.

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 5.22.23 PM

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.”

Magnolia Guard Accused in Pepper-Spray Incident Pled Guilty to Felony; SPD Says He May Have Overstepped His Authority

Police spokesman: “It’s not cool to just pepper-spray someone and put them in cuffs.”

toomey
Screen shot via Q13 FOX.

[UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, I received a copy of the police report about the pepper-spray incident. According to Toomey’s account, he approached Harris’ car after two people approached him and “explained that there was a person [Harris] parked in a vehicle … and possibly doing narcotics.” At that point, Toomey told the officers, he approached Harris’ car and found him sleeping, knocked on his window, got in a verbal altercation with Harris, and left to call 911 “to report the suspicious incident.” (That incident being, so far, the presence of a man sitting in his car in a legal parking spot.)  then, Toomey told the police, Harris drove up behind him, got out of his car, and “attempted to grab” him twice before Toomey pepper-sprayed him, pushed him onto the hood of Harris’ car, and handcuffed him before calling 911 again.

Toomey’s account differs from Harris’ in a few respects. He claims Harris tried to “grab” him and does not mention knocking Harris’ phone, which SPD officers found shattered underneath Toomey’s Hummer, to the ground. He also doesn’t mention attempting to open Harris’ car door, which Harris claimed he did. Finally, he claims to have only pepper-sprayed Harris once, “striking him in the face,” whereas Harris says Toomey actually chased him back to his car while spraying him–an account that is consistent with Harris being shoved and cuffed on the hood of his own car, rather than the Hummer’s.]

A Seattle Police Department spokesman says a guard working for a private security force hired to police the Magnolia neighborhood stepped out of bounds when he pepper-sprayed and cuffed a longtime neighborhood resident and employee last week. “It’s not cool to just pepper-spray someone and put them in cuffs,” SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb says.

As I reported last week, Central Protection security guard James Toomey reportedly pepper-sprayed, handcuffed, and detained Magnolia resident and 76 gas station employee Andrew Harris after a confrontation that began when, Harris says, Toomey approached Harris’ car, which was parked on a street in Magnolia, and asked him what he was doing there.

Meanwhile, Pierce County Superior Court records reveal that Toomey pled guilty to one felony count of forgery and one gross misdemeanor count of violating a no-contact order in April 2004. According to court documents, Toomey was arraigned for domestic violence assault in 2003, and his ex-wife obtained a restraining order against him. Subsequently, according to court documents, Toomey forged a letter on the letterhead of a local attorney’s office, purportedly from a lawyer at that firm, in an attempt to get one-on-one visitation with their son, in violation of the no-contact order against him.Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 10.43.37 PM

Previously, also according to Pierce County Superior Court records, Toomey had been convicted of negligent driving and unlawful discharge of a firearm. As part of his sentencing for the forgery and protection order violation, Toomey was required to go through treatment for domestic violence and anger management issues, which he completed at a Social Treatment Opportunity Programs in Tacoma in 2005. 

In 2010, Toomey successfully went back to court to have his conviction vacated on the grounds that the felony conviction was affecting his opportunities for “employment, and licensing for employment.” One year after Pierce County Superior Court vacated the conviction, in August 2011, the court restored his right to own a gun. In December 2013, Toomey obtained a license from the state Department of Licensing to work as a security guard, and in 2014, he got a separate license as a private investigator—two services he offered out of his home office in Lakewood.

Repeated attempts to contact Toomey directly and through his employer by phone and social media were unsuccessful.

The Magnolia Patrol Association’s website says the reason private security guards are a good alternative to the police is because they don’t have to follow the constitution and can approach anyone at any time, anywhere, for any reason.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 10.02.00 AM
Image via Central Protection Services’ website.

“Private security firms have more authority on private property than police,” the MPA site says. “In addition, private security firms represent the property owners. The police, even off duty on special assignment, represent the City, County or State they work for. The police, even off duty, have to follow the guidelines set forth in the 4th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.

“The police cannot stop anyone to ask if they live on property, what they are doing, etc. This is a violation of a person’s Constitutional Rights which could open the police or property owner up for a civil suit. The police are not allowed to speak to anyone unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime may be afoot. Further, they must be able to articulate this suspicion in clear language. Private security can interact with anyone at any time [b]ecause they do not represent the Government and the Constitution does not apply to private security.”

Whitcomb calls that claim “amazing,” and says private security guards are subject to local, state, and federal laws, including the US Constitution. “You don’t get to deprive other people of their constitutional rights,” he says. “[Private security guards] don’t have police powers. They don’t have the same authority.”

Whitcomb adds the common notion of a “citizen’s arrest” is a lot more complicated than TV shows and movies make it out to be, and that if you see someone committing a crime, you’re better off calling the real police and letting them handle the situation. “Our company line is that the only folks who should be making arrests are those who are trained to do so, because it’s fairly complicated and there’s always the possibility that things can escalate” to the point where someone winds up injured or dead. “Just because someone broke into your car, or your house, that does not mean you get to hit them with a hammer.”

By handcuffing and detaining Harris, Whitcomb says, Toomey “deprived [Harris] of his liberty. To put handcuffs on someone, not by choice or consent, where he’s not free to go—this is why detectives need to look at what happened” in the incident. I have requested the police report to get Toomey’s version of events, but as of Friday, it was not available.

2AnuDXG

Central Protection general manager Denis Kurdija did not respond to calls and messages for comment. His Facebook account is private and his Instagram account has been taken down. A commenter on Reddit took a screen shot before the latter account disappeared, however, showing Kurdija posing next to one of the white-and-blue Central Protection Hummers, with the caption, “I’m the general, just makin’ sure my soldiers straight #patrol #patrolcar #securitypatrol #mobilepatrol #privatepatrol #mob.”

Magnolia Patrol Association director Joe Villarino declined to comment on the incident or Toomey’s legal history, confirming only that Toomey lives in the Tacoma area.