Some suspects ran. Some tussled. Others attempted to speak. But they all met the same fate. They were pistol-whipped, shot or stunned by men wearing uniforms and badges.
This isn’t a cop drama, but the disturbing record of one California-based security company.
The latest episode happened in February, when a guard with Cal Force Security caught Sulman Hafeez urinating outside a 7-Eleven and shot him, injuring his kidney, pancreas and stomach, according to an ABC 10 report.
According to the report, the guard approached Hafeez to handcuff him, but Hafeez resisted, causing a struggle that led to the shooting. The guard also shot Hafeez with a stun gun and pepper-sprayed him. Sacramento police are investigating.
A search of readily available public reports indicates that this was at least the third shooting involving the company in recent years. Cal Force Security voluntarily surrendered its license this month. In its wake, the company left a trail of violent encounters that led to few, if any, consequences.
Cal Force owner Nathan McGuire did not return calls seeking comment.
Data collected by Reveal suggests that the use of private armed guards is on the rise. While police officers who use their guns undergo local and sometimes nationwide scrutiny, security guards are held to much lower standards.
Over the years, Cal Force Security, a small firm based in Sacramento, has accrued contracts everywhere from business districts to high-crime apartment complexes and grocery stores.
In 2009, a guard for the company, then called Northern California Impeccable Security, shot a man outside a bar after the guard lost his pepper spray during a fight and got sprayed in the face, according to a news report. The state Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, which licenses and oversees security guards, investigated but did not pursue disciplinary action, spokeswoman Monica Vargas said.
In 2011, a security guard fired a shot at several fleeing teenagers at an apartment complex, according to disciplinary documents from the bureau’s website. No one was hit.
The guard later told regulators that he thought one of the teens had a gun, but he did not call police, nor did he tell the bureau that he had discharged his gun, as state law requires.
More violence occurred later that night, when the guards once again spotted the teens and accused them of loitering. They approached with their guns drawn and ordered the teens onto the ground, according to bureau records. One complied, but the other, Christopher Ivory, did not.
When Ivory began walking toward security guard Davon Nelson, Nelson said he felt threatened and struck Ivory in the face, breaking his jaw. A security guard at the scene reported that Nelson had used his gun to strike Ivory, according to his employer. Nelson later told a judge that he had holstered his weapon and struck Ivory with his palm, according to disciplinary documents. Ivory, it turned out, was deaf and mute. Nelson could not be reached for comment.
It’s unclear how well the state investigated the incidents. The Bureau of Security and Investigative Services has declined to release records of security guard shootings.
A previous investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the bureau had at times failed to thoroughly investigate shootings, allowing guards who misused their guns to keep their licenses and their jobs. Regulators also had no way of knowing how many security guards were involved in shootings because they simply filed the reports into individual files. When a company did not report a shooting, the bureau often took no action.
Following that investigation, the bureau began keeping better tabs on shootings by collecting the reports in a central place.
But that doesn’t automatically solve the underlying problem: Even security guards who have shot and killed people and who are left traumatized by the experience routinely keep their licenses.
“If there’s a police officer that’s in a shooting, they go on desk duty. They are removed from duty pending the outcome of an investigation. And that doesn’t occur here,” state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said at a hearing about the bureau last month. “Those individuals can continue to go about their business without a suspension.”
Records show that the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services fined Cal Force $1,000 for improper advertising and using an unapproved badge and insignia. Regulators did not take action against the guard who shot at the fleeing teens.
Nelson, on the other hand, did face discipline. In 2012, the bureau moved to suspend or revoke his license, but Nelson fought the discipline in court. An administrative law judge ruled the beating was self-defense, allowing him to keep his licenses. Ultimately, Nelson let his firearm permit lapse.
Cal Force ran into other conflicts with state regulators, too. Beginning in 2009, former employees sued the company for unpaid wages and overtime and other labor violations. Guards were required to buy their own uniforms and use their own cellphones for security-related calls. One former employee claimed that he was ordered not to hire anyone with a foreign accent, according to court records.
In 2013, the bureau moved to revoke the company’s license after discovering it had failed to pay thousands of dollars in labor judgments against it involving at least eight guards. McGuire eventually paid the employees, according to state records. But ultimately, regulators agreed to let McGuire keep his license.
So Cal Force’s official state record remained virtually unblemished.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the reason Cal Force had been fined. The company was fined $1,000 for improper advertising and using an unapproved badge and insignia. The story also clarifies the details of the confrontation between Davon Nelson and Christopher Ivory.
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nikki Frick.
Shoshana Walter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.