Two days ago, on a quiet residential street in Magnolia, a private security guard employed by Central Protection, a company hired by Magnolia residents to combat what they view as an epidemic of crime in their neighborhood, pulled his blue-and-white Hummer over behind a parked car owned by Magnolia resident. Within the next five minutes or so, the officer, James Toomey, had pepper-sprayed [Andrew] Harris in the face and, reportedly, knocked Harris’ Android phone out of his hand, sending the phone’s face, body, and battery scattering in different directions.
Now, this is all according to Harris, a gas station attendant in Magnolia and longtime resident of the area.
"He just said I looked suspicious," Harris told KIRO. "They hired him to protect the neighborhood, instead he assaulted me."
Central Protection and Magnolia Patrol—the neighborhood group that hired the company because they're dissatisfied with Seattle police—did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The guard involved in the incident, Toomey, is the leader and supervisor of the company's Magnolia patrol. Here's how he described his job back in December: "We're basically paying attention to anything suspicious. Anything that doesn't look like it belongs—vehicles, people walking around, etc."
There are three times as many private security guards, nationally, than there are local police, according to a 2003 study. But no one seems to track use of force by private security guards. To the extent that they are regulated, it's largely through licensing programs that differ from state to state. Typically, private guards must pass a criminal background check.
There are almost 11,000 licensed security guards in Washington, and since 2007 not one has been disciplined by the state for excessive force or misconduct on the job, according to Department of Licensing spokesperson Christine Anthony. Those who do have their licenses revoked usually lose them because of a new criminal conviction or "unlicensed activity."
The Department of Licensing's website doesn't share any information about security guards' records beyond whether their licenses are active or expired (Toomey's is active).
FYI, a search for Stuart Hinds—the guard who was caught in photos by Alex Garland pepper-spraying a bystander during a downtown protest in 2014—indicates that Hinds moved to Santa Ana, California, where he remains an active licensee. In that case, even though there was photo evidence of the spraying, the city attorney declined to prosecute Hinds.
I've requested the police report—both police and medics were called to the scene on Wednesday—and will update when I hear back.