Lawsuit accuses MTS, security personnel of using excessive force

SAN DIEGO — Four men are suing the Metropolitan Transit System, one of its code compliance inspectors and a private security contractor over allegations that the trolley personnel assaulted them, used excessive force and violated their civil rights, it was reported Monday.

The suit also alleges a failure by the agency to “train, supervise, investigate and discipline” security personnel, and that “MTS has created a de facto policy of sending untrained security guards into the community to act like police officers,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Manny Guaderrama, a 30-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department who now heads the Metropolitan Transit Service’s security force, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with Universal Protection Service, a private security firm that contracts with MTS to provide armed security guards on the trolleys and buses.

One of the four San Diego County residents suing the transit system is Felipe Vedoy, a man who was beaten on an MTS trolley by security contractors in 2014. The incident was caught on video and led to the firing of the security personnel involved, according to the Union-Tribune.

One of the other plaintiffs is a security officer who worked at a building near a trolley stop in the Lincoln Park area. Clarence Courtney tried to intervene when a code compliance inspector and security contractor named in the lawsuit were allegedly assaulting another man and Courtney suffered injuries in the process, the Union-Tribune reported.

The last two plaintiffs are Keith Stewart and Prather Johnson. All four men allege that the same MTS code compliance inspector — a man whose full name is not known to the plaintiffs — used excessive force against them in similar incidents on Feb. 17, April 26 and June 20, according to the Union Tribune.

On two of the three occasions, the compliance inspector was accompanied by a security officer from Universal Protection Service.

“The excessive force is evidenced by them forcibly taking plaintiffs to the ground without any reasonable suspicion nor probable cause to believe a crime was committed,” attorney Doug Gilliland wrote in a complaint filed Nov. 7. “The force was used without warning, when plaintiffs were not an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and while plaintiffs were not resisting nor attempting to evade arrest by flight.”

The lawsuit also accuses Guaderrama of playing a role in turning code compliance officers and security contractors into what the plaintiffs and their attorney call a “de facto” police force, the Union-Tribune reported.

Code compliance inspectors are allowed to write citations, but don’t carry guns. The security contractors employed by Universal Protection Service cannot write citations, but are permitted to carry a gun if they’re licensed by the state.