The manager and owner of a private security firm in SE Portland is still running his business with the blessing of the state, despite having been warned repeatedly by police for over a year for allegedly taking "pseudo police action"— including making "arrests" and bargaining with "suspects" over "drug charges," according to new documents obtained by the Mercury.
"Captain" Knute Soleim runs Portland Security Services, Inc. (PSSI), which according to the company's website, portlandsecurity.net, provides security "when observe and report is not enough." Soleim is registered with the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) in Salem—the state agency charged with regulating private security guards.
PSSI guards dress in blue uniforms with bright, shiny badges, according to a spokesman for the firm. They also patrol their clients' properties in retired black-and white police cars with badges on the sides and red light bars on top.
Now, further evidence has emerged to suggest they may be leaping over the line separating private security from police.
"Upon arrival, I found Soleim standing in front of the building next to his 'patrol car,' which is a 'retired' black-and-white police car, complete with light bar," wrote Portland Police Officer Andy Edgecomb in a "special report" he submitted to the DPSST on August 1, 2006. Edgecomb arrived on the scene—an apartment complex on SE Powell—to find Soleim had "arrested" someone.
"[The suspect] was handcuffed and sitting in the back seat," Edgecomb's report continues. "Soleim said that he and another security guard contacted [the suspect] and found he was in possession of a small marijuana pipe which had a very small amount of residue. Soleim said he took [the suspect] into custody for drug possession, handcuffed him, and escorted him out to his car."
Soleim, according to Edgecomb's report, had earlier called Hooper Detox and asked for them to send a van to take the "suspect" and his friend, who was allegedly drunk, to detox. The Mercury's efforts to contact the two men were unsuccessful.
"Soleim said that he told [the suspect] the 'drug charges' would be dropped if he agreed to go to detox," says the cop's special report.
Edgecomb's report says other cops had warned Soleim before about this kind of behavior.
"I know that Officers Jensen, Bruce, Mirau, and Castlio have previously advised Soleim and other [PSSI] guards about taking pseudo-police action," Edgecomb wrote. "There were so many legal issues with this situation I did not even attempt to discuss it with Soleim."
Portland Police spokesman Brian Schmautz says it's possible Officer Edgecomb did not arrest Soleim for impersonating a police officer under ORS 162.367 because it's unclear whether Soleim was violating the statute, which requires the person to be acting "with the intent to obtain a benefit."
"Arguably what the guy is doing is irresponsible or not within the confines of what a security guard should be doing," says Schmautz. "But there is a civil system in place to address that."
Schmautz argues that a benefit to Soleim's business from impersonating an officer is not the same as a personal benefit, such as taking a "fine," but the law, as it is written, does not appear to make such a distinction. District Attorney Mike Schrunk did not return a call for clarification.
"He is immediately contacting law enforcement so he is not trying to pretend he is the police," Schmautz contends.
Officer Edgecomb declined comment, but wrote another special report on Soleim in September 2007, according to Schmautz. The police bureau was unable to furnish the Mercury with this report by press time.
According to DPSST records—the "civil system" Schmautz refers to—the agency took no action against Soleim or his company, following Edgecomb's report. However, DPSST investigator Karen Evans told the Mercury that the complaints against Soleim and his company are "unusual."
The Mercury requested all complaints against PSSI from the DPSST, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act.
Other complaints against PSSI include one from September 2006, by a former employee who wished to keep his name secret, alleging that "the company will often hire transients and put them on post without being certified."
The complainant also said that there are individuals working armed without the proper permit, and as supervisors without that certification, supplying pay stubs to support his allegations. The anonymous complainant told the DPSST he had been told by Soleim and "Lieutenant" Anthony Tait that PSSI "had the DPSST girls in their back pockets."
According to its records, the DPSST took no action over this complaint, either.
"The case is in the queue," says DPSST spokeswoman Jeanine Hohn, who says the agency is currently dealing with 150 complaints against private security companies in Oregon. She adds that Soleim "wasn't arrested for any crime."
DPSST Executive Director John Minnis refused comment, and Soleim did not return a call for comment.