Miami-Dade County Needs to Reconsider Contract with 50 State Security

Carlos Miller

Miami-Dade County Needs to Reconsider Contract with 50 State Security

Contrary to statements from a Miami-Dade Transit spokesperson, passengers were not complaining about an elderly woman singing gospel music before she was tossed off the Metrorail by a 50 State security guard last month.

In fact, the guard who threw her off, Christian Llinas, did not enter the rail car until the Vizcaya Station before he tossed her off at the Brickell Station, which is the very next stop.

According to Michael Remy, the man who video recorded the encounter, 82-year-old Emma Anderson had been sitting on the train singing since the Dadeland North station, which is five stops south of the Vizcaya Station.

Remy began video recording her because he found her interesting. She wasn’t exactly entertaining nor disturbing. Just another character encountered on Miami-Dade’s transit system, hardly the first passenger to break out in song.

“No one was complaining, she was just doing her thing,” he said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime. “Everybody was just ignoring her.”

When Llinas entered the train, the guard walked up to her and ordered her to stop singing and banging her newspaper but she continued.

Seconds later, as the train pulled into the Brickell Station, he grabbed her suitcase and pulled it off the train with her grasping onto the other end.

“You’re going to get off here, let’s go, ma’am,” he said as she fell onto the platform, her body laying halfway inside the train car.

“Ah, hell no!” exclaimed Remy as he stood up from his seat and demanded to know the guard’s name.

The incident caused the train to remain motionless for several minutes as Llinas radioed for help from other security guards.

Paramedics eventually arrived and tended to Anderson while Remy and two other witnesses remained on the Brickell Station platform to give statements to police whom they were told were en route.

But after an hour of waiting, Remy began to doubt that 50 State ever called police and decided to call Miami-Dade police, who preside over all Metrorail stations, and learned that nobody had called them.

Also, when he tried to talk to Anderson to let her know he had video recorded the incident, several 50 State guards crowded around her, ordering him away.

“I was trying to talk to her and give her my information but they wouldn’t let me communicate with her,” he said.

50 State guards eventually escorted Anderson back onto the train to allow her to reach her destination, which was the Brownsville Station. Anderson had called her son who was waiting for her at the station.

Remy had followed along and met with her son to tell him he had the video. Remy’s friend then emailed the video to several news stations in Miami where they eventually aired it more than a week later.

The story quickly became national news and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez was forced to issue Anderson apublic apology.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

But the one issue that hasn’t been addressed by the mayor, media and county flacks is the glaring lack of professionalism and training within 50 State Security, a company that reportedly has an $88 million contract with the county that is set to expire in October.

This lack of training not only places commuters in danger as we saw in Anderson’s case or in my recent incidentwhen I was attacked for taking photos or in my 2010 incidents where security guards assaulted me or my friendsfor using cameras near the stations – all which prompted my lawsuit against the company – but it places the guards at risk as well, according to a former 50 State security guard.

Low Morale

The fact that the company is charging the county $27.94-an-hour per guard but starting the guards at $14.35-an-hour has created low morale with the security guards, who have to pay an additional $135 per pay period for health insurance.

“They are stealing money from the guards,” Livan Diaz, who worked for 50 State from July 2012 to October 2012 before quitting and enrolling in an aviation educational program where he will be certified by the FAA to work on commercial airlines, a skill he acquired in the military.

The company will no doubt argue that it is using the remainder of allotted salary per guard to go towards training and other expenses, but if that were the case, then we should expect better trained guards.

And that’s just not the case.

“All they give you is an eight-hour crash course on how to use your baton and put handcuffs on people,” Diaz said.

“They also give you a four-hour course on legal matters,” he said, explaining that it’s mainly a Power Point Presentation that includes a segment that trains guards to approach photographers with large cameras and demand to see a permit.

“They trained us to make sure the photographers have a permit, that they are not shooting for commercial purposes,” he said. “But they don’t explain the difference between commercial and what is not commercial.”

50 State has a policy where it only hires former police officers or military veterans to become armed guards, providing them guns, batons, handcuffs and hollow-point bullets, which are more lethal than full metal jackets.

The lackluster training coupled with the tools and power to abuse their authority can create a recipe for disaster when they encounter a passenger who is not abiding by their demands.

“The ones who are ex-police officers might be trained to deal with this,” he said. “But the guys who are ex-military only know one way to react and that is with full force.”

He also added that many of the former cops who get hired by 50 State were fired from their police jobs and many of the veterans suffer from PTSD.

Diaz said the lack of training along with faulty bulletproof vests also places guards at risk when they encounter violent criminals (instead of stubborn photographers or singing grandmothers).

“I have been to the combat zone in both Iraq and Afghanistan six times and I felt safer there than working for this firm,” he said.

Diaz also said there is an extremely high turnover rate with security guards frequently quitting or getting fired. He was still on his 90-day probation when he was ordered to train a former Miami-Dade cop as a guard.

“That’s when I knew somebody eventually get killed or hurt,” he said. “They’re supposed to have a booklet with all the guidelines and procedures at all the stations but I only found that at a handful of stations,” he said.

Diaz believes that the only reason 50 State has been able to maintain the county contract for this long despite lackluster performance is because former Miami-Dade Police Director Fred Taylor is a top executive at the company and has maintained close contacts with the county.

Taylor is so revered in the county that they renamed the Miami-Dade Police headquarters after him.

“That’s their safety net,” he said. “Without him, they are nothing.”

50 State Project Manager Fred Taylor Is A Former Miami-Dade Police Director

Attacking Photographers

Diaz remembers one incident in which two Miami-Dade College students were ordered to stop video recording at the Bayfront Park Metromover Station.

“Both had their cameras confiscated and one was physically assaulted,” he said.

“In another incident, two tourists were told to leave the Metromover station after having taken pictures of the tracks and the vehicles.”

Diaz said the incident with the students took place in August 2012 but the guards neglected to write a report, indicating that perhaps those guards out-right stole their cameras.

“One student almost fell to the tracks after having been pushed and punched,” he explained. “I helped him up and I apologized for their conduct but he could had died had he fallen onto the tracks.”

Incidents like this can only be blamed on lack of training, an inadequate screening process and a lackluster oversight from Miami-Dade Transit, the county department that overseas the company.

But lack of oversight from Miami-Dade Transit is nothing new.

For years, the department allowed Wackenhut, the previous security company contracted to guard the Metrorail, to allegedly overbill the county for unrendered services before the county brought on 50 State in late 2009.

A pair of Wackenhut executives were even brought up on racketeering charges, a case that fell apart when the main witness against the company, a Miami-Dade police officer named Juan Aviles, was gunned down in Puerto Rico in 2011.

According to CBS Miami:

Racketeering charges have been dropped against two high level Wackenhut employees accused of overbilling the county for Metrorail security.
Prosecutors said Thursday they couldn’t move forward with their case against Rene Pedrayes and Eduardo Esquivel.
One reason the case fell apart was because one of the state’s key witnesses, Miami-Dade police officer Juan Aviles, was gunned down in May while on vacation in Puerto Rico.

No arrests were ever made in the murder of Aviles and his sister but it was immediately clear that robbery was not the motive. Envelopes of cocaine were also found on the two victims and Puerto Rican police speculated the murder may have been committed by sister’s jealous ex-boyfriend.

Even though Wackenhut officials emerged from the financial scandal without criminal consequences, the company ended up paying a $7.5 million settlement to Miami-Dade County for the money it was accused of bilking taxpayers for nearly two decades.

Miami-Dade Police Officer Juan Aviles, Who Was Gunned Down In Puerto Rico Before He Was Set To Testify Against Wackenhut.

Adding to the scandal, the Federal Transit Administration cut federal funding to Miami-Dade Transit in 2010 over allegations of financial mismanagement, which further confirmed what locals have suspected for decades – that county officials were likely pocketing the money that was meant for Metrorail expansion.

According to CBS Miami:

Assistant County Manager Ysela Llort revealed Tuesday that a transit agency employee made an unauthorized withdrawal of approximately $14 million dollars from the federal grant fund about two hours after the feds had pulled the plug on the funding. Llort said word of the funding suspension had apparently not “worked its way down the agency” when the withdrawal was made. She said the money has since been repaid, but the gaffe apparently served to add to the FTA’s displeasure with the county.

The continuous scandals ended up forcing Miami-Dade Transit Harpal Kapoor to step down from his $243,000-a-year position in 2011.

Replacing Kapoor was Yselia Llort, who was appointed by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez who referred to the county’s transit department as a “train wreck” during his 2011 campaign in which he was elected after voters ousted the previous mayor.

But it was Miami-Dade Transit’s spokesperson, Karla Damien, who jumped to the defense of 50 State security after its guard dragged off the singing grandmother last month, insisting that Emma Anderson needed to have a commercial permit in order to sing gospel hymns, attempting to whitewash the incident by claiming the guard only “escorted” her off the train.

“Miami-Dade Transit has a responsibility to all its passengers to provide a safe and comfortable travel experience. The elderly passenger, Ms. Anderson, who was escorted from a Metrorail train, was initially asked by a security guard to refrain from singing loudly and playing an instrument while on the train.
She refused to comply. County rules associated with transit use prohibit anyone from singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument unless a commercial permit is issued by MDT. Further, Ms. Anderson’s singing was causing a disturbance to other passengers and impeding important train announcements from being heard.
We regret that Ms. Anderson had to eventually be escorted out, but regardless of age, all passengers need to abide by the rules associated with using transit.”

A week before his public apology to Anderson, Gimenez vowed in his State of the Union Address to continue striving to create a “world-class transit system” for the county.

But this is a transit system in which I have no desire to set foot in again out of fear that I might get dragged down an escalator in a chokehold because I snapped a photo from the platform.

This is a transit system in which 82-year-old Emma Anderson is afraid to set foot in out of fear she will be dragged off a train for singing gospel music.

And this is a transit system in which Michael Remy, the 28-year-old man who video recorded the Anderson incident, doesn’t want to step foot in again.

“I used to ride it everyday but since that day, I have stopped riding it because I don’t feel safe with those guys,” he said.

A transit system in which its own residents are afraid to ride is anything but a world-class transit system.


Citizen Journalism