Denver artist Raverro Stinnett was at Union Station after attending a LoDo art opening, waiting for a train home early on the morning of April 20, 2018, when he was confronted by four security officers who threatened him and challenged him to a fight. Two of the guards, employed by contractor Allied Universal Security Services, led him to a bathroom and brutally assaulted him while another kept watch; all three later pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Stinnett was left with permanent brain injuries that, according to a lawsuit filed last week, “have completely upended his life.”
“Mr. Stinnett suffers from permanent cognitive impairments that make it largely impossible for him to produce original art — let alone art of the same quality as he once did,” the lawsuit says. “He has difficulty engaging in basic everyday activities and maintaining ordinary relationships. Severely depressed and frustrated by his reduced capabilities, Mr. Stinnett has become a shut-in who rarely interacts with others.”
Stinnett’s civil suit against the guards, Allied and the Regional Transportation District, which owns Union Station, came as RTD’s board of directors approved changes to its "code of conduct," which include stricter rules on behavior at bus and train stations. And the 2018 incident is a reminder, say critics of the new rules, of the abuse and discrimination that may result when private security contractors enforce them.
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In a letter sent to RTD’s board on April 21, opponents of those rule changes — including Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, as well as advocates with Denver Homeless Out Loud, the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and the NAACP — say that they will make it “more likely that these types of brutal incidents will occur.”
"We see no evidence that this restrictive rule will be applied equally or fairly to all patrons, since it appears to be driven by fears and stereotypes," says the letter, which was signed by more than fifty activists. "There will be more cases of excessive force by RTD security if the RTD board continues to move forward with this rule change that is rooted in fear rather than best practices."
RTD’s revised code of conduct, which was approved by boardmembers on April 21, makes a variety of changes to Union Station policies, including adding a new provision stipulating that “facilities are to be used only for travel-related purposes” and giving RTD more explicit authority to remove people from its property. Officials are also considering a separate set of rule changes governing Union Station's underground bus terminal, which the board is expected to vote on in the coming months.
In meetings this month, boardmembers and agency staffers acknowledged that the changes will impact people experiencing homelessness who often shelter inside of RTD facilities. But RTD rejects the letter’s claim that more restrictive policies at Union Station would make incidents of excessive force or other abuses more likely.
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“There is a lot of misinformation and wrong assumptions being conveyed related to this lawsuit and the circumstances revolving around the incident two years ago,” says RTD spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas.
“There is nothing in the Code of Conduct, as adopted by the board in 2016, or the recently revised and approved Code, that would give license to the behavior of the Allied Universal employees who were involved in the incident in 2018,” Tonilas adds. “The behavior by the guards does not align with RTD’s core values or reflect the attitude, mission, policies or practices of RTD.”
In his lawsuit, however, Stinnett, who is black, and his lawyers argue that he was targeted in part because RTD's rules are too broad and security officers have too much authority to enforce them unevenly.
“Union Station is advertised as ‘Denver’s Living Room’ — a public space where all are welcome. In practice, however, Union Station is a tightly-regulated, sanitized space,” the lawsuit argues. “These rules are not enforced uniformly: Denver’s homeless and minority communities are targeted for heightened scrutiny."