SEATTLE — Three unarmed security guards stood by and watched last month as a 15-year-old girl was punched, knocked to the ground, kicked in the head and robbed in a downtown Seattle bus tunnel.
The guards’ actions during the brutal attack — captured on surveillance video — have prompted a review of the policy that unarmed, civilian guards call police and not try to stop fights or crimes.
Surveillance video first aired by Seattle’s KING-TV this week shows the attack at Westlake Station on Jan. 28. The victim appears several seconds before her attackers and sidles up to the three guards, who are standing together and talking.
When a group of teens and young adults approaches the girl, she appears to seek refuge by moving around to the other side of the guards.
Another 15-year-old girl shoves the victim and begins punching her. The two crash into a wall and then onto the floor. The assailant gets up and kicks and stomps on the girl’s head. Others grab her purse, iPod and cell phone.
The guards called police, who arrived minutes later, after the group had fled. Investigators tracked down four, including the alleged attacker, and arrested them on Friday and Saturday. No charges have been filed.
Those involved knew each other and had been involved in a disturbance at a nearby department store which drew the attention of Seattle police earlier that evening, according to a sheriff’s office report. The girl, who reported that she lost consciousness during the attack, was not hospitalized but did see a doctor.
King County Sheriff’s Sgt. John Urquhart said the guards were right to follow their training.
“If you’re a bank teller and you do something other than give them the money, you’re going to get fired,” Urquhart said. “We don’t expect civilians to take police action. In this case, it was a violent fight, and they were outnumbered by this pack of people 3-to-1.”
Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond and other King County officials were less forgiving.
“We are very disappointed in what people see in that video,” Desmond said. “It was absolutely unacceptable. I know the Olympic Security folks were also disappointed in the response, but again, the employees were following the letter of the agreement.”
Metro Transit contracts with the King County Sheriff’s Office for 68 police officers, and supplements that force with civilian guards provided by Olympic Security Services Inc. of Tukwila, Wash. All three of the guards involved are Olympic employees.
The guards’ duties include helping customers and reporting suspicious objects, disruptive behavior and equipment problems.
Olympic Security President Mark Vinson did not immediately return a call seeking comment, but Desmond said the company is quickly working up a proposed contract revision, which could include additional training and new guidelines on how and when guards should intervene.
Other options include hiring armed guards.
Unarmed guards could put themselves and others at risk if they intervene in certain situations. But this incident was largely a fight between two teenage girls, and there does not appear to be any indication that the larger group would have become involved if the guards broke it up, Desmond said.
“If I was there on the platform I don’t know that I would have stood there,” he said. “It’s their job to be down there. The people at Olympic Security had the same human response: ‘Why didn’t we step in to protect the girl on the ground?’”
Watch the video here: