San Jose Mercury News: Some living in Santee neighborhood allege security guards roughing up residents

About two months ago, Isaac Gomez, Victor Rivera, and their family came to ACJP raising the issue about the local security company, Admiral, who has been harassing many people in their neighborhood including using eviction as an intimidation tactic.  Victor himself was beaten up by security and their family served an eviction notice.  Their family chose to fight back, and  just last week, their family beat the eviction defense!  Here is their story featured in the Mercury News. 

San Jose: Some living in Santee neighborhood allege security guards roughing up residents

By Sean Webby
Photo by Nhat Meyer
11/7/11
San Jose Mercury News

Almost 15 years after a San Jose neighborhood was so afflicted by street gangs that a judge ordered landlords to hire their own private security force, some residents say it’s the court-mandated armed guards who are a threat.

Five teens, several adults who live in the Santee area and a gang suppression worker told this newspaper that guards from Concord-based Admiral Security have harassed and assaulted them.

“It’s a power trip. The cops aren’t around, so they do whatever they want,” said Isaac Gomez, a Santee resident and San Jose State senior who alleges that security guards beat up his teenage brother earlier this year. “Residents here live with fear every day and are scared to challenge the security’s

Police are investigating the alleged assault. The guards have denied it, reporting that the 15-year-old attacked them.

“Our people are trained professionals, they know what they are doing,” said Mohamed Ahmed, Admiral’s CEO. “There is always a certain group of people who are not welcoming of security. Those are usually the troublemakers.”

The allegations of rogue security officers raise questions about the effectiveness of the long-standing court injunction — the only one of its kind in San Jose.

City Attorney Rick Doyle said the city is now reconsidering the injunction and may soon seek to suspend it, although he said it has nothing to do with the allegations against Admiral. The neighborhood has improved

In 1997, San Jose went to court to ensure property owners of about 100 residences in Santee — a largely working-class, Latino neighborhood — were keeping safe and livable conditions. The court injunction required the owners to hire a security force. Calling themselves “Ambassadors of Good Will,” Admiral security guards were hired in 2008.

The city renewed the injunction last year, saying the neighborhood had one of the highest number of reported gang incidents in the city. Yet crime has jumped, increasing 11 percent compared to the same eight-month period last year, according to police.

Meanwhile, complaints about the security guards are growing.

“It’s not a maybe; they are assaulting these kids,” said Sonny Lara, a prominent gang outreach worker. “They are bored if there is no trouble. They even create the friction themselves and harass these kids.”

Julie Patiño, managing attorney for Bay Area Legal Aid, said she was afraid the ongoing issues between the armed guards and youth in Santee could lead to a serious injury or death.

Victor Rivera, 15, alleges that on Aug. 27 two guards attacked him.

Rivera’s mother had complained to the security guards that they had unfairly tried to blame her son for possessing marijuana he had found in a trash bin. Then a month later, according to his allegation, the guards followed Victor in their patrol car on his way home, taunting him by saying, “Go cry to your mom. Crybaby.” Then, he said, they made a sexual reference to his mother.

The teen said he swore at them, and they got out of the car and demanded: “What did you say?”

The guards then threw him to the ground and punched the back of his head, cutting his forehead on the pavement and leaving a deep bruise on his back, the teen alleged. They called police, who cited the teen for being intoxicated, disturbing the peace and fighting.

Three days later, the family received an eviction notice based on the incident, identifying Victor as a gang member. He denies gang ties.

Eviction dismissed

“They think everybody is a gang member,” Rivera said. The eviction case was dismissed last week, a few days before trial.

Four other teenage boys from Santee told this newspaper they also have been assaulted and harassed by Admiral security guards. A teenage girl said one of the security guards verbally and sexually harassed her earlier this year.

One of the guards the residents most cited as violent and harassing is Bruce Hernandez, a supervisor in Santee. In postings on his Facebook page on May 14 and 19, Hernandez talks about violent arrests of what he called “pisa’s” — street slang for Mexicans. In one, he posted: “we been having a lot of action lately — we arrested (a suspect) twice in the last week- and me n daniel slammed that (expletive) and had him tappen out real quick — we pepper sprayed and slammed some pisa’s on friday also- then 2 pd officers were struggling with this other idiot and we (expletive) slammed him with PD.”

Patiño said the postings showed a “distorted pride” and “really reaffirmed the depth of poor judgment that we are dealing with.”

Experts say that security guards, for the most part, are not allowed to use physical force on people unless there is imminent danger.

“They can defend themselves, if necessary. But they should be reporting any crimes to police and not doing anything more aggressive than that,” said Jeffrey Mason, chief of the state’s Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.

Hernandez and another security officer declined to be interviewed and referred all inquiries to Admiral.

Ahmed said Hernandez was “very well appreciated” by many people in Santee and is known for passing out candy and star stickers to neighborhood children.

“He has a lot of positive presence,” Ahmed said.

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