DENVER (CBS4) – As many public agencies across the country are reexamining their relationships with local police departments, one Regional Transportation District board member is calling for the transportation district to end its contracts with off-duty police and private security officers and replace them with social workers and mental health specialists.
Board member Shontel Lewis first introduced the measure Tuesday, June 9, and brought it up again Tuesday, June 16, at RTD board meetings. She tells CBS4 she’s working to gain more support from other board members, and hopes the measure will be put up for a vote in the coming weeks.
“Essentially, it’s an ask of staff to hire more mental health professionals that can respond to mental health crises for individuals that are on our platforms or on our services,” Lewis said. “Our staff receives calls from the general public saying this person is in crises, and so our system wouldn’t necessarily change, what would change is the person who responds to it.”
Lewis said her proposal does not include cutting any funding for the RTD Police force, because RTD can oversee how those officers are trained.
Lewis also said one catalyst for her proposal was a 2018 incident, in which a local artist, Raverro Stinnett, was beaten by RTD-contracted private security guards in a bathroom at Union Station.
“He suffered a number of brain injuries that have really derailed his art career. He was a full ride scholarship to the college of Rocky Mountain Art and design, but he wasn’t able to keep up with his coursework after that, he’s had to withdraw,” said Stinnett’s attorney, Felipe Bohnet-Gomez.
Three security guards pleaded guilty to the assault, but Stinnett’s attorney wants to see more accountability from RTD.
“We think it’s dangerous to have these armed, poorly trained security guards patrolling RTD stations,” said Bohnet-Gomez.
Stinnett has filed suit against RTD and Allied Universal Security, the company who employed the guards.
“Frankly, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Stinnett being treated the same way if he were white,” Bohnet-Gomez said.
Bohnet-Gomez said RTD has not yet responded to the suit in court, and Allied has filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case.
An RTD spokesperson provided CBS4 the following statement about the issues:
“The police and security guards perform an essential function to uphold safety across the RTD system and we do have a mental health professional on staff who works as part of our security team. We are looking to expand in this area as resources allow.
As for the incident two years ago with Mr. Stinnett, RTD remains deeply concerned about the actions of the Allied Universal employees involved in that incident. The behavior by the guards does not align with RTD’s core values or reflect the attitude, policies or practices of RTD. We insisted an investigation be done right away and fully cooperated with police in their investigation and prosecution of the individuals involved. RTD has set clear expectations with Allied Universal and strengthened processes and procedures for training, hiring and RTD’s oversight of the contractor. As horrible as this incident was, this is about individuals’ bad behavior, and those individuals are suffering the consequences.”
Allied Universal sent the following statement to CBS4:
“In 2018, three Allied Universal security professionals working at the Regional Transit District in Denver were involved in a dispute with a passenger resulting in one employee alleged to have physically assaulting the passenger. We deeply regret this incident as this in no way reflects the professionalism that we expect of all Allied Universal personnel. Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of all members of the public.
After a prompt investigation, all three security professionals involved were terminated from employment. A fourth security professional who was not directly involved in the incident, but failed to report it, also was terminated.
A special training program was then developed stressing enhanced situational awareness, customer service and ethical intervention. All employees at this account received this training, presented by Regional training and HR executives.”