Just two months after security guards at Legacy Health hospitals were equipped with taser guns, a man was tackled and tased by security guards outside Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in North Portland Tuesday afternoon. Guards also pointed a taser at bystanders who attempted to deescalate the situation.
The incident comes less than three months after a fatal shooting of a hospital security guard in July that led Legacy to install metal detectors and start equipping its security guards with tasers.
Nathaniel Ferguson, 62, says he was shoved out of the doorway of the Legacy hospital Tuesday, October 17, after getting into a verbal spat with a security guard while he was at the hospital picking up a prescription.
“When I walked through security, after I got through there, the lady said something smart to me,” Ferguson recalls. “I just kept going and then on the way out, I told her I didn't appreciate the way she talked to me. Then the male security guard pushed me out the door.”
Ferguson, who turns 63 in a few weeks, said he brushed the security officer away from him as he was being pushed, causing one person to draw a taser, but not deploy it. The extent of the physical interaction is unclear. Representatives from Legacy Health declined to provide details about the incident, citing an “active investigation,” but allege Ferguson assaulted a security officer in the hospital.
Ferguson says he left and got in his car, but returned moments later to try to exchange contact information with bystanders just outside the hospital who witnessed the altercation. That’s when security approached in full force.
“They told me to put my hands behind my back. I said ‘No, I ain't gonna put my hands behind my back,’” Ferguson said, noting a swarm of security officers approached at that point. A struggle ensued among Ferguson and hospital guards. A bystander said Ferguson struck a guard in the face as they attempted to arrest him. Cell phone video from the incident shows Ferguson in fighter stance for a moment, yelling something at the officers, before one of the guards pulls Ferguson to the ground, where he is tased on the sidewalk outside the hospital.
Denise Mullenix stood nearby, filming the interaction as two young children huddled roughly 10 feet away, and a teen in a wheelchair filmed the interaction on a cell phone.
“I can't get that child's scream out of my head. Watching her hysterically cry as she watched these guards who dress like police erupt in violence,” Mullenix told the Mercury, characterizing the event as an overreaction from security. “I watched those kids get traumatized. And it was all so very unnecessary.”
Mullenix didn’t see what started the incident, but walked up as Ferguson’s head hit the pavement.
“I did hear him yelling, warning them not to lay hands on him,” Mullenix recalled, saying there was “nothing that looked like deescalation.” Mullenix suspects race may have played a part. Ferguson is Black. The six or seven security guards appeared to all be white.
Video shows two other women pleading with security to leave Ferguson alone, as one of the officers points a taser at her. One of the women later tells a security supervisor that Ferguson’s arm was grabbed “because he didn’t leave fast enough.” Representatives for Legacy Health said the organization is investigating Tuesday’s incident “to gather additional facts” about what happened.
After Tuesday's violent tussle, police were eventually called to arrest Ferguson for fourth-degree assault.
Despite the arrest, and Legacy's claims of assault, Ferguson isn’t being charged with any crime, raising questions about what prompted the use of force.
After spending about four hours in jail custody Tuesday, Ferguson showed up to court Wednesday, October 18 for arraignment to find out no formal complaint or charges were ever filed. The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office noted "insufficient evidence without victim participation" prevented prosecutors from issuing charges. The case was closed.
Ferguson said Wednesday he would return to his job the following day. He said he’s “sore” from the incident, noting a spinal surgery a decade ago left him with back pain that was aggravated by the event. He visits the hospital each month, to pick up prescription medication, but now he's reluctant to go back.
“The guy should’ve never put his hands on me,” Ferguson said.
Tuesday’s use of force comes as security at Legacy sites was bolstered recently. A deadly shooting at Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital in July left an unarmed security guard dead and another employee injured, while hospital staff across Portland went on lockdown. After an hours-long search, police eventually found the suspect, killing him after he was stopped in a vehicle.
The deadly incident led Legacy to add metal detectors to its hospitals and outfit its security guards with tasers. In Oregon, private security guards are licensed by the state's Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST), the same agency that trains police, though security guards don't have the same level of authority as traditional law enforcement officers.
Legacy Health released a brief statement Wednesday, citing safety as a top concern.
“At Legacy Health, the safety and security of our people, patients and community is our highest priority.
On Oct. 17, around 3 p.m., Legacy security officers responded to an incident that involved an individual physically assaulting one of our security officers inside Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. The incident continued outside where an officer tased that individual. Legacy is conducting an active investigation to gather additional facts about this incident.”