Wash. guards who saw beating 'followed training'
The guards' actions during the attack have prompted a review of the 'observe and report' policy
By Gene Johnson
SEATTLE — Three unarmed security guards were following orders last month when they stood by without intervening as a 15-year-old girl was badly beaten in a downtown Seattle bus tunnel. Now the company they work for and government officials say those orders should be revised.
The guards' actions during the brutal attack - captured on surveillance video - prompted an outcry from Metro Transit and King County authorities, who said they wished the guards had broken up the fight even though they're not supposed to.
"We are very disappointed in what people see in that video," said Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond. "It was absolutely unacceptable."
Police arrived minutes after the attack, and after the group had fled. Investigators tracked down four, including the alleged attacker, and arrested them on Friday and Saturday. The four were all charged with first-degree robbery.
In court papers filed Wednesday against the teen girl accused of attacking the 15-year-old and the three young men accused of stealing her purse, phone and iPod, the victim told authorities she thought the security guards would protect her.
Surveillance video first aired by Seattle's KING-TV this week shows the attack at Westlake Station on Jan. 28. The victim appears several seconds before her attackers and sidles up to the three guards, who are standing together and talking.
When a group of teens and young adults approaches the girl, she appears to seek refuge by moving around to the other side of the guards.
Another 15-year-old girl shoves the victim and begins punching her. The two crash into a wall and then onto the floor. The assailant gets up and kicks and stomps on the girl's head. Others grab her purse, iPod and cell phone.
The guards, who have standing orders to "observe and report," called police.
The victim told a King County sheriff's detective that the group followed her from a nearby department store into the bus tunnel at Westlake Station on Jan. 28, and she deliberately stood next to the three guards.
At the department store, two Seattle police officers noticed the escalating situation and kicked the group out of the Macy's, then brought the girl and her friend to another exit, the victim said. She reported that she asked the officers for an escort to the bus tunnel, just below the department store, but the officers refused.
"Had these officers known what was to transpire, they probably would have paid for a cab for this victim to be taken safely to her home, but they didn't know. They broke up a couple of disturbances and provided the victim an opportunity to leave the area via bus," said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a Seattle police spokesman.
One of the defendants, 18-year-old Dominique Whitaker, told detectives that earlier in the evening the victim had pepper-sprayed another person in the group.
The 15-year-old, who reported that she lost consciousness during the attack, was not hospitalized but did see a doctor.
King County Sheriff's Sgt. John Urquhart said the guards were right to follow their training.
"If you're a bank teller and you do something other than give them the money, you're going to get fired," Urquhart said. "We don't expect civilians to take police action. In this case, it was a violent fight, and they were outnumbered by this pack of people 3-to-1."
Metro Transit contracts with the King County Sheriff's Office for 68 police officers, and supplements that force with civilian guards provided by Olympic Security Services Inc. of Tukwila, Wash. All three of the guards involved are Olympic employees.
The guards' duties include helping customers and reporting suspicious objects, disruptive behavior and equipment problems.
Olympic Security President Mark Vinson did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday. Desmond said he has been in close contact with the company, and its executives were disappointed in the response of the guards.
Olympic Security is working up a proposed contract revision that could include additional training and new guidelines on how and when guards should intervene, Desmond said.
"They are highly motivated to make changes very quickly," Desmond said. "I am motivating them, and they have a reputation to keep."
Other options include hiring armed guards.
Unarmed guards could put themselves and others at risk if they intervene in certain situations. But this incident was largely a fight between two teenage girls, and there does not appear to be any indication that the larger group would have become involved if the guards broke it up, Desmond said.
"If I was there on the platform I don't know that I would have stood there," he said. "It's their job to be down there. The people at Olympic Security had the same human response: 'Why didn't we step in to protect the girl on the ground?'"
The girl charged with being the primary attacker faces up to 2 1/2 years in juvenile detention if convicted. Whitaker and Latroy D. Hayman, 20, each face a sentence of 31 to 41 months in prison if convicted, and the third adult defendant, Tyrone J. Watson, 18, could face a sentence of 36 to 48 months in prison.
It was not immediately clear if any had obtained lawyers.