Denver artist Raverro Stinnett left a gala just after midnight on April 20, 2018, and walked to Union Station to catch a train home.
When Stinnett left Union Station three hours later, he had a brain injury from being beaten in a bathroom by a private security guard working under a contract with the Regional Transportation District, a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court alleges. Stinnett was unarmed and suspected of no crime.
The guard’s assault highlights how lax hiring standards and inadequate training from the security contractor, Allied Universal Security, create a culture of unaccountability and an unofficial police force with much less use-of-force training than an average city officer, the lawsuit alleges.
“RTD has committed over $58 million to Allied for under-qualified and under-trained Transit Security Officers,” said Felipe Bohnet-Gomez, one of Stinnett’s attorneys. “Though Mr. Stinnett was simply waiting for his train, he was caught up in RTD and Allied’s systematic campaign to target the homeless and communities of color for increased scrutiny and harassment.”
The lawsuit highlights an ongoing discussion regarding who’s welcome at Union Station — a public space that calls itself “Denver’s Living Room” — and how long a person is allowed to stay there.
“RTD employs up to 600 armed, uniformed RTD Transit Security Officers to act as gatekeepers and strictly control the behavior of the public in conformity with RTD’s policies and guidelines,” the lawsuit states. “Dozing off is prohibited. Waiting for your train for too long is forbidden. The list goes on. These rules are not enforced uniformly: Denver’s homeless and minority communities are targeted for heightened scrutiny by the RTD TSOs.”
RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas on Tuesday said the transportation agency did not condone the actions of the guard accused of beating Stinnett or the other guards present. After the incident, the agency gained more oversight over Allied Universal Security and made changes to training.
“When this happened, obviously we were very upset by this,” Tonilas said. “We did an investigation right away. We insisted these officers be fired, and they were.”
But Stinnett will never fully recover from his brain injury, which makes it impossible for him to create his art like he once did.
“Beyond his diminished economic prospects, Mr. Stinnett’s injuries have robbed him of something more essential: his confidence and identity as an artist, his passion for creating and, with the loss of his capacity to make art, the very thing that imbued his life with purpose and meaning,” the lawsuit states. “He has become a broken person, a shadow of his former self.”
Stinnett was waiting on a bench for a 3:15 a.m. train home when security guards first approached him. They told him he had to leave the train platform and instructed him he could wait downstairs in the bus concourse, the lawsuit states.
Stinnett went downstairs and joined others waiting there, but was approached by guards again about 25 minutes later. One of the guards told Stinnett he could not wait for his train there, citing a rule that passengers cannot wait more than two hours at the facility. Stinnett, who had not been there for two hours, walked out of view of the officers and sat on another bench, according to the lawsuit.
Twenty minutes later, the guards found Stinnett again and confronted him. Stinnett and one of the guards, James Hunter, were discussing the rule when Hunter became aggressive and suggested that he and Stinnett settle the dispute in the bathroom, the lawsuit states. Stinnett followed Hunter into the bathroom because he believed Hunt was suggesting he wait for his train in the bathroom.
Once inside, Hunter beat Stinnett, causing Stinnett to lose consciousness. Three other guards knew what was happening in the bathroom and allowed it to happen, according to the lawsuit. When they later came into the bathroom, they saw blood seeping from Stinnett’s head, according to a statement one of the guards later made to law enforcement.
None of the guards called for medical help. Video surveillance showed Stinnett walk out of the bathroom holding a bandage to his head. They left him in the bus concourse.
Stinnett traveled home, though he does not remember how, the lawsuit states. He has no memory of the moments after the assault or for the two following days.
Later medical exams found that the Stinnett’s teeth were broken in the attack and that he suffered permanent brain scarring. The brain injury has permanently altered Stinnett’s personality, and he struggles with memory, focus and executive functioning, the lawsuit states.
“Now, when Mr. Stinnett attempts to create any art–paper sculptures or otherwise—he experiences a profound sense of sadness and loss at his diminished capacity, and often cries uncontrollably,” the lawsuit states.
None of the four guards reported the incident. One of the guards, Victor Diaz, later told investigators that the contract security guards regularly swept incidents under the rug.
“It’s not like it was anything out of the ordinary,” Diaz said, according to the lawsuit. “We try to protect ourselves; we try to protect each other.”
The incident came to RTD’s attention when one of Stinnett’s friends posted about it on Facebook on May 16, 2018, and an internal investigation began immediately.
One of the guards at the incident, Taylor Taggart, was tasked with obtaining written statements from the three others at the scene that day. Each of the officers said in their statement that they did not recall any specific incident that day.
It wasn’t until Stinnett reported the assault to Denver police on May 17, 2018, that the truth came out. Three of the officers involved — Diaz, Taggart and Hunter — pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection to the incident. The fourth was not charged because he was a cooperating witness in the investigation, the lawsuit states.
RTD worked with Allied Security to better training and increase RTD oversight over the hiring process, said Tonilas, the RTD spokeswoman. Tonilas emphasized that the guards were not RTD employees, but contractors.
“You can have processes in place, but nobody can prevent somebody’s bad behavior,” Tonilas said. “And that’s what happened here.”
But larger systemic issues and pervasive cultural issues continue to plague the contracted security forces, the lawsuit states. In interviews with investigators, some of the security guards demeaned the homeless people they met through work.
RTD never penalized Allied Security in connection to Stinnett’s assault and continues to contract with the company.
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