Editor's note: At a meeting on the evening of August 11, the RTD board rejected a proposal to essentially de-fund Allied Universal Security Services, for reasons described below, by a 14-1 margin, although some members are reportedly open to consider future changes. Continue for our previous coverage.
At a meeting tonight, August 11, the board of the Regional Transportation District will consider a resolution to terminate the contract of Allied Universal Security Services by year's end and reallocate $27.3 million that RTD pays the firm in order to invest in what's described as "the expansion of mental, behavioral and social supports."
Allied recently faced another challenge in another venue — federal court — and lost badly. The company asked for a gag order against Raverro Stinnett, a Denver artist who recently filed a lawsuit after being brutally beaten at Union Station by three of Allied's security guards in April 2018. Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter slapped down this request with extreme prejudice.
"Lawsuits, and in particular lawsuits of a constitutional dimension involving interactions between private citizens and government actors, frequently occur in a broader social context," Neuriter said in his opinion. "There is a strong public interest in having a robust debate about such disputed interactions, and a party who claims to have been wronged by unconstitutional or otherwise tortious conduct by a government entity is free to try to obtain vindication by any number of means, including by using his or her First Amendment rights to educate the public, to try to bring public pressure on the defendants to effectuate a settlement, or even to educate the defendants to ensure that the wrongful conduct never happens to anyone else."
In his motion to deny the gag-order request, attorney Qusair Mohamedbhai of Denver-based Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, which represents Stinnett, used a loaded term to characterize Allied's actions: "shut up and dribble," a reference to a phrase that Fox News host Laura Ingraham used to criticize basketball star LeBron James for speaking out on social issues. According to Mohamedbhai, "These guys are just trying to silence people from talking about what's going on, and we're as a community paying them millions of dollars. This is what they're doing with taxpayer money: They're saying, 'Shut up, taxpayers. Don't talk about brutality.'"
There's no doubt what Stinnett experienced was a crime. He'd simply been waiting for a train home during the early-morning hours of April 20, 2018, when four security guards — Sergeant Taylor Taggart and officers James Hunter, Victor Diaz and Aaron Fougere — challenged him to a fight that led to a horrific assault in a Union Station bathroom, resulting in permanent brain damage for Stinnett. Taggart, Hunter and Diaz subsequently pleaded guilty to assorted offenses, including Class 5 felony menacing. Fougere, who served as a cooperating witness, wasn't charged, but he's listed as a defendant in the lawsuit alongside RTD and Allied, as are the other three guards.
The incident was the focus of a Westword cover story in July 2018 as well as other media stories, and the filing of the lawsuit shortly before protests against racist law enforcement erupted in downtown Denver in late May threatened to shine an even brighter light on what had happened to Stinnett. Hence the demand to muzzle him and his attorneys until the resolution of the lawsuit — a process that can take years — made on Allied's behalf in July by the Denver law firm of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, LLP.
One passage from that document: "The record supports the entry of a restraining, or gag order on the litigants and their counsel in this case considering the current political climate and Plaintiff and his counsel’s record of making prejudicial statements to the press. As such, Allied respectfully requests that this Court enter a restraining, or gag order restraining the litigants and their attorneys from discussing this lawsuit or the alleged incident with the press."
Judge Neureiter's unusually strong dismissal of this suggestion came down on August 7, mere days before the RTD board's scheduled discussion of the resolution regarding Allied, put forward by District B director Shontel Lewis. There's no direct reference to the Stinnett situation, but one section states that "the RTD's Civil Rights Division’s core objectives are to provide our passengers, employees, business partners, contractors, and communities with equal opportunity and access to public transit services, and...a commitment to promoting fairness, excellence, and professional integrity throughout all its initiatives." Another acknowledges "the historical trauma and harm that Black communities have experienced at the hands of police and security personnel."
Westword reached out to every RTD boardmember to get a sense of the possible response to this resolution but heard back from fewer than half; an RTD spokesperson explained that several members wanted to wait to share their thoughts until after tonight's presentation.
In the meantime, however, District A's Kate Williams notes via email that "I am a co-signer on this resolution. I want to have open and transparent discussion on the subject. I am unsure that the resolution as it stands is the best solution, but obviously we have to start somewhere. I believe that transportation is a social determinate of health — that it underlies quality of life. A food bank is no good if you can't get to it. Mental services are no good if you can't get to them or they can't get to you. That's why I do the work that I do in the field of transportation for older adults and persons with disabilities. I will speak to those concepts on Tuesday night."
District D's Jeff Walker supports talking about the resolution, too, while District F's Bob Broom says he does not yet have a position. District G's Ken Mihalik opposes it because "there are, unfortunately, very serious crimes that occur where a counselor, or community monitor, will be of no use," he says.
District I's Judy Lubow writes, "I do not support the current resolution. It is too expensive and the necessary work hasn't been done to determine the actual extent of the problem and what the best solutions would be." However, she adds, "I support re-looking at the Allied contract, especially to ascertain the best mix of services to pay for and use to give our customers and staff the safest and most productive transit experience."
District M's Natalie Menten reports that she's spoken to numerous bus drivers and rail operators who oppose the resolution, and most of the passengers who mention security to her want more of it, not less. "I would be very concerned if we were putting money into things that I would call outside of our duties," she says. "We have a budget issue, and we're a transportation service: Putting the rubber on the road is what we're tasked with. So if we're right now looking at even further substantial service reductions, any savings found in a contract reduction should be going to that. It shouldn't be going to a new set of employees who are out doing mental health work, which we're not tasked with under Colorado revised statutes."
The meeting of RTD's Operations & Customer Service committee, whose agenda includes the resolution, gets under way at 5:30 p.m. tonight, August 11; the remote event can be accessed using the conference dial-in number 855-962-1128.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.