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Lawsuit accuses MTS, security personnel of assault, using excessive force

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, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this month.

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.”

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To support the allegations, the lawsuit points to Manny Guaderrama, a 30-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, who now heads the Metropolitan Transit System’s security force.

Guaderrama is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as is Universal Protection Service, the private security firm that contracts with MTS to provide armed security guards on trolleys and buses.

An MTS spokesman said the agency could not comment on pending litigation. Officials from Universal Protection Service did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

Guaderrama did not immediately return a phone message.

Those suing the transit system include Felipe Vedoy, a man who was beaten on an MTS trolley by security contractors in 2014 — an incident caught on video that led to the firing of the officers.

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 was roughed up in the process, the suit says.

The other plaintiffs, all of whom are from San Diego County, 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.

On two of the three occasions, the compliance inspector was accompanied by a security officer from the private company, whose full name is unknown to the plaintiffs. He is identified in the lawsuit only by a last name.

“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.

“By calling himself the ‘Chief of Police,’ MTS knew or should have known that Guaderrama fostered the belief in security and code compliance officers that they were a police force and could take actions against citizens as police officers,” the lawsuit says.

MTS spokesman Rob Schupp said Guaderrama didn’t adopt the title on his own. “Manny’s title is Director of Transit Enforcement/Chief of Police,” Schupp wrote in an email.

Guaderrama’s predecessor held the same title.

Code compliance inspectors and contracted security guards are not police officers. Code compliance inspectors can write citations, but don’t carry guns. The security contractors employed by Universal Protection Service don’t write citations, but can carry a gun if they’re licensed by the state.

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