THE TROUBLING CASE of three security guards caught roughing up a pair of skateboarders at Pioneer Courthouse Square in November 2009—a scuffle captured on video, with one of the guards clearly clobbering a teen with a skateboard—is finally heading to court.
Brian Baca, the skateboarder who got his head smashed, and another man, Clyde King, are suing all three guards and the company that employed them, Pacific Patrol Services (PPS), for a combined $1.35 million in damages, according to court records obtained by the Mercury. The trial, raising claims of assault, battery, false arrest, and negligence, is expected to start this Monday, January 9.
This latest chapter in the case comes more than a year after a criminal grand jury declined to indict the guards, Jason Allen, Dmitriy Kolombet, and Nick Jones—the guard infamously filmed clubbing Baca on the head. ["Skating By," News, Sept 9, 2010]. And it comes in the middle of an ongoing controversy over whether the city should allow private security outfits, which operate with little civilian oversight, to continue patrolling high-profile public spaces.
PPS even petitioned the city late last year, according to the Oregonian, for a chance to expand its security portfolio beyond the two downtown squares it patrols: Pioneer Courthouse Square and Director Park.
Now, newly released records in the court file—including depositions, state discipline findings, and formerly confidential reports filed by PPS—could complicate that quest.
Jones, in particular, is portrayed as a poorly trained rookie who was working without official certification when he stepped over the reasonable bounds of his post in the November 25, 2009 fight.
"The security guard's decision to pick up the skateboard and swing it at the plaintiff, and hit him in the head with it, was an intentional act that, in these circumstances, does not appear to have justification or excuse," Judge Alicia Fuchs wrote in a November order allowing Baca and King to press for punitive damages.
The altercation, according to records, started when Allen, the senior guard on duty, confronted Baca and asked him either to stop skateboarding in the square or leave. Baca refused, and Allen issued "verbal" 30-day park exclusions to Baca and his friends. That led to jawboning, and Baca bumping into Allen as he walked past, which is about when Jones showed up—and tried to take Baca's picture.
Baca admits using his skateboard to smack away Jones' camera, which was less than two feet from his face. Jones' response? He punched Baca in the face and put him in a headlock. Baca's friend, King, leaped in to help, but was grabbed by Allen, dropping his skateboard.
Jones then grabbed King's board and smashed it against Baca's head, staggering him briefly. Baca managed to get up and slap Jones, wrestling with him until Kolombet, who had just called 911, ran over and put Baca in another headlock. The fight broke up right before the cops arrived.
Jones, who left PPS in summer 2011 to work on a farm, was just five days into his job as a guard. In a deposition this summer, he said he struck the skateboarders because he feared for his own safety.
According to an internal PPS report filed November 29, 2009, Jones told a fellow guard, Brett Parker, that "he knew he should not be" punching suspects but that "I just could not stop it." Jones later told Parker "it was nothing I was trained on, it just happened."
PPS, meanwhile, was forced to acknowledge it allowed not only Jones to briefly work without credentials ["Hitting the Bricks," News, Aug 12, 2010], but also did the same for 16 other guards from late 2009 to early 2010. The company, fined $500 by the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST), blamed bookkeeping and personnel issues.
Anthony Schwartz, Baca and King's attorney, and Lee Aronson, the guards' attorney, both declined to comment. Alan Pendergrass, owner of PPS and the only employee authorized to speak with reporters, did not return a message seeking comment before deadline.
Baca, in his deposition, said he thought the whole thing might have been avoided. He just wanted one more chance to finish a skating trick when Allen confronted him.
"I asked him nicely," he said, "and he looked like he was a cool guy, and I thought maybe he would let me have another try."