During his two years with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia, Deputy Kentae Greene was accused of beating one inmate, choking two others and denting the side of someone’s pickup truck with his baton.
Short, wiry and aggressive, Greene spent more than half of his brief tenure under internal investigation. He was described as “erratic and threatening,” having behavior “of a violent nature” and displaying “a very hostile and violent demeanor with inmates,” according to internal affairs documents from the sheriff’s office. He also violated department policy by taking a secondary job directing traffic and working as a security guard at an Atlanta-area McDonald’s.
Greene lost his position at the sheriff’s department in October 2009. But he did not lose his ability to don a uniform and carry a gun. He went on to become an armed guard at a suburban apartment complex, displaying some of the same behavior he’d shown during his deputy job.
Police reports and interviews with residents show he got into fights and frequently pulled out his gun, escalating tensions with residents, until on Sept. 11, 2012, he shot a man to death.
Greene is representative of dozens of armed guards identified by The Center for Investigative Reporting who previously had been fired from or left law enforcement after being accused offenses such as of civil rights violations, excessive force and corruption.
Some failed law enforcement officers who become guards continue to commit acts of violence, incompetence or abuse in their new positions. In some cases, including Greene’s, CIR found that armed guards escalated hostile confrontations, leading to a deadly conclusion.
Many former law enforcement officers seek out the armed security guard profession, an appropriate second career for retired or off-duty officers who want to earn extra money, as well as for military veterans and former officers laid off due to budget cuts.
But state regulators who license armed guards, and the companies that hire them, largely have failed to screen out applicants who might prove dangerous with a gun. Federal law prohibits dishonorably discharged veterans from possessing firearms, but decertified law enforcement officers are free to become guards with guns.
Forty-one states require federal criminal background checks for armed-guard applicants and flag those with criminal records, though compliance suffers from bureaucratic inefficiencies and other factors. Only one state – Oregon – checks whether an applicant was a disciplined or terminated police officer.
“Most of these people will commit the same acts again. They tend to fall back on their practices,” said Michael Becar, executive director of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training. “Maybe the most frightening thing is they’re carrying guns and they could shoot somebody.”
CIR examined the disciplinary records of armed guards in a sampling of five states and found that about 14 percent of the guards whose licenses had been suspended or revoked had prior law enforcement experience.
“I simply protect human life. … I am in simple layman terms, ‘A Mini-Precinct.’ ” — Facebook post by Kentae Greene, January 2012
Some were former officers with troubled pasts, like Greene, whose problems in law enforcement would foretell their problems as armed guards. But it’s impossible to know how many of those former officers had bad records in law enforcement because public records laws in several states bar disclosure of that information.
In Florida, where police personnel records are public, CIR found that 13 percent of disciplined armed guards were former law enforcement officers with disciplinary histories or failing grades on their law enforcement training or exams.
In some cases, according to a review of licensing records, agencies have learned of an applicant’s troubled past in law enforcement and still issued him or her a license to work as an armed guard.
A CIR analysis of data shows regulators in Georgia routinely licensed armed-guard applicants who had bad records in law enforcement. Out of 43 regulatory board orders meting out discipline of current guards or approving applications, 28 percent were for former officers with documented histories of abuse.
The Georgia Board of Private Detective and Security Agencies said it learns about police disciplinary problems only if an applicant discloses it on an application. Officials review available records and invite the applicant to speak to the board. A board official said they tend to approve licenses for applicants who have Peace Officer Standards and Training records.
“A lot of our decision is based on that appearance of the individual,” Glade Johnson, chairman of the Georgia board, said in an interview. “I would say that most of the former police officers – even if they have POST problems – most of them get licensed.”
A history of run-ins with residents
Kentae Greene, now 30, patrolled the grounds of the Parkview apartment complex in Austell, about 15 miles west of Atlanta, on foot. Sometimes he was in uniform – a black shirt and black cargo pants. On occasion, he added a bulletproof vest or strapped an assault rifle over his shoulder. But usually he wore sweatpants and a T-shirt, his holstered 9 mm Glock loose in his pants pocket.
He was one of Parkview’s “courtesy officers,” a common arrangement usually involving police officers who receive free or highly discounted rent in exchange for keeping a watchful eye on the property and its residents. In fact, Greene sometimes worked alongside off-duty Cobb County police officers, the same agency that eventually would investigate the September 2012 shooting.
He approached his job with hypervigilance. Among other tactics, Greene, who is African American, later would tell police that he wore a whistle to help him control crowds at the complex, “so when I have to get large crowds to disperse, like the black residents, other Hispanic residents hanging out in large numbers, it helps me to achieve that.”
Of his duties, Greene wrote in a Facebook post in January 2012: “I simply protect human life and value it as my far most leading priority. I am in simple layman terms, ‘A Mini-Precinct.’ ”
Greene was neither an active certified peace officer nor a licensed armed guard, but he was legally allowed to carry a gun in the state of Georgia.
“One of the things I could not do was portray an image of weakness.” — Kentae Greene
Under Georgia law, proprietary guards – those who work directly for a business rather than a security company – are exempt from security guard licensing requirements. And although he no longer had valid law enforcement credentials, police officers who responded to the complex still referred to Greene as a POST-certified officer, referring to the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.
According to interviews with Parkview residents, many of them feared for their safety around him, particularly when he brandished his gun.
Greene told Georgia police detectives: “Basically, I have a history with the black residents, let’s be perfectly honest about it, where there have been several incidents in the past where I have had to draw my weapon.”
Fluent in the apartment complex’s rules, Greene filed reports against residents for everything from drinking an open container of alcohol in front of their apartments to playing outside without shoes. When he saw residents gathering in crowds or in breezeways, he recorded them with his phone for “case-building purposes.” The violations were against property rules, but residents often accused Greene of racially profiling them and violating their privacy.
“They would have this rule that nobody could stand in our breezeway,” said former resident LaCreshia Hight, an African American resident who witnessed Greene’s 2012 shooting of Andrae Oliver. “There’d be a million people in other breezeways. He would still single us out. He would pick days and just nitpick with us.”
In an interview with CIR, Greene said he was simply trying to enforce the rules; he did not address his record as a sheriff’s deputy.
“The black community could have felt overwhelmingly like they were targeted, but it stemmed from their blatant practices and behaviors in which they engaged in, as well as their blatant disrespect of authority,” Greene said. “Just because they continuously caused more problems, one of the things I could not do was portray an image of weakness.”
As a result, Greene said he often pulled out his gun for protection. In the year he worked at Parkview, Greene got into physical fights with residents on at least six occasions, according to police reports.
He frequently clashed with Oliver, 27, an honorably discharged veteran of the Afghanistan War. Greene did not consider Oliver an official tenant because his name was not on the lease with his wife, Davine Thames, and their 1-year-old son, Greene said in an interview.
Thames worked as a nursing assistant, while Oliver operated a forklift for a living and attended ITT Technical Institute. He also liked to work on cars and tattoos. He kept himself busy, Thames said, because he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, for which he received support from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He had vivid nightmares that caused him to kick and jump in his sleep, and he drank every day.
“I guess it kept him mellow or whatever,” Thames said. “And once he started doing that, his dreams and jumps and stuff wasn’t bad.”
By Sept. 11, 2012, Greene had cited Oliver and Thames so many times – for offenses such as drinking cans of beer on their porch or emptying trash in the wrong dumpster – that they were facing eviction. That day, Greene spotted Oliver standing in front of his building and drinking a can of beer, both violations, according to Greene, of apartment rules. Greene threatened to write him a citation for not putting the drink into a cup.
Police reports and interviews detail the events that followed: An hour or two after warning Oliver, Greene spotted Oliver in his car, began recording him with his cellphone and raced over to confront him, yelling that he could have Oliver arrested for driving under the influence. Oliver got out of his car as Greene leaned in close to his face.
Oliver pushed him away, and Greene punched him. The two already had begun fighting when Thames ran out of the apartment.
“Leave it alone,” she screamed, putting her body between the men as they continued to fight.
In an interview with detectives, Greene said Thames joined the fight. Thames said she was defending herself after Greene punched her several times.
Facing the couple, Greene said he took his gun out of his pocket and pointed it at them. The two backed off and headed back to their apartment.
“Y’all didn’t think I had it in me, did you?” Greene yelled, police reports show. “I’m undefeated.”
Thames went back inside the apartment while Oliver leaned against a car in the parking lot. Greene followed him and stood on the sidewalk next to the car as he called 911 to report the alleged assault by Thames and Oliver.
Witnesses and Greene himself provided conflicting accounts of what happened next.
The recorded call begins with the 911 dispatcher answering and Greene identifying himself. He calmly tells the dispatcher that he had been assaulted by two residents and had to use a weapon. Six seconds later, gunshots can be heard, and Greene’s calm turns to panic.
Here is the 911 conversation just after Greene identifies himself:
Dispatcher: What’s going on?
Greene: I have a physical assault by two residents on a courtesy officer.
Dispatcher: OK. Does anybody have any weapons?
Greene: Yes, I have one at this time. Which I did have to use.
Dispatcher: What did you use?
(Suddenly, three shots are fired.)
Dispatcher (shouting): Who is shooting?
Greene: (To a gathering crowd:) Get down! (To the dispatcher:) Yes, ma’am. I had to use a weapon. This guy approached me with a weapon.
Dispatcher: OK, what kind of weapon does he have? And you were the one shooting at him?
Greene: (To the crowd:) Back! Get back! (To the dispatcher:) Yes, ma’am. He had a bat. He tried to sneak me from the back. I need an officer here, ASAP.
One bullet struck Oliver in the chest. Another bullet hit a 19-year-old bystander in the leg. Oliver collapsed on the ground. As a crowd surged around him, Thames ran from the apartment and pulled Oliver’s body into her arms.
“Please don’t leave me, babe,” she begged. “We need you.”
She pressed a white bedsheet to his wound, but it was too late – Oliver died at the scene.
Later, during an interview with detectives at the Cobb County police station, Greene contradicted his 911 call. According to the 911 recording, Greene shot Oliver without uttering any warning and claimed Oliver “tried to sneak me from the back.”
But he told detectives in the interview: “I’m on the phone with Cobb dispatch, I turned around (and said), ‘Ma’am, I got this gentleman coming towards me, he has a weapon in his hand,’ or something like that. (I said), ‘Sir, drop the weapon,’ and he’s still coming towards me, and if he would have hit me with it, it would have instantly knocked me unconscious. He refused to drop it.”
In their interview, records show, the two detectives asked Greene about his training as a law enforcement officer and discussed what constitutes a legally appropriate use of deadly force.
“I stopped a threat that was trying to cause me serious physical bodily injury and harm,” Greene said.
A day after the shooting, police told Greene that he would not be charged with homicide and later ruled that the shooting was justified. Greene told CIR that he lost his job at Parkview but continued to work part time elsewhere as a security guard. He is now fundraising online to open his own driving school.
Officer’s troubled tenure in Southern California
Sam Tavallodi was a recent police academy graduate when he was fired from the Indio Police Department in Southern California’s desert area in July 2006. He then resigned in lieu of termination from the El Centro Police Department in April 2008. These departures came after incidents in which he used excessive force and made “racial comments,” according to court documents.
In 2009, Tavallodi, now 34, became an armed guard with San Diego’s transit system, not telling Heritage Security Services, his employer, about his past.
He left the reference section on his application blank and touted his police officer credentials, claiming budget cuts and department politics – not citizen complaints – played a role in his departures from the two departments, police reports and court documents show.
On Sept. 11, 2009, at the Vista transit station, he encountered what he described as a loud, drunken couple waiting for a bus. In the span of a few minutes, Tavallodi pinned 21-year-old Anthony Wacker by his neck against a wall in an attempt to handcuff and arrest him for trespassing after he refused to leave.
Wacker had been on his way home with his fiancée, Rachael Kolacz, after spending the night celebrating a friend’s birthday. At the time, they were living with a friend and her kids, and they worried that they had missed the bus, Kolacz recalled in an interview.
When Kolacz asked Tavallodi for the time, he told her to get a watch, according to police reports. Wacker snapped back, and the confrontation swirled swiftly downward. Kolacz said Tavallodi told them to leave the station, and the couple refused.
“It’s like, dude, you have no right to tell us to get off the property. We’re asking you what time it is,” she said. “We’re trying to get on the bus, we have all-day passes. We’re trying to go home.”
In an interview, Tavallodi said: “It’s not like you can really walk away and leave a problem. So what if I ignore it and leave and then it turns out he beats the crap out of her or beats up the driver on the bus? I was nipping it in the bud to tell this guy to beat it.”
When Tavallodi attempted to handcuff Wacker by grabbing him by the neck, Wacker pushed him away and attempted to punch him, according to police, and Tavallodi unholstered his gun, pepper-sprayed the couple and pursued Wacker off the property into the street. As Wacker held his burning face in his hands and attempted to fight off Tavallodi, Tavallodi tackled him onto his stomach. Then he shot Wacker twice in the back, killing him.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department investigated the incident as an officer-involved shooting, listing the former officer as the victim and Wacker as the suspect. Tavallodi told CIR that he was forced to shoot Wacker because his arm was trapped underneath Wacker’s body and Wacker was trying to gouge out his eye.
Had his employer, Heritage Security, provided him with another guard and a stun gun, Tavallodi said he believes he would not have had to shoot Wacker.
“There is a very high probability that two armed guards, or two people, would have been able to control Mr. Wacker,” Tavallodi said. “They technically should have had a police department working there or contracted with the sheriff’s department. They wanted to do it on the cheap.”
Heritage later was sold to one of the largest security companies in the country, Universal Protection Service.
“I have more experience and training than anybody that worked there, including all my supervisors,” Tavallodi said in the interview with CIR. “I was a full-time peace officer. I have been through a police academy. They would love to hire more people like me. The only reason I’m even alive or not permanently maimed for the rest of my life was my training and experience and my will to survive.”
Detectives reasoned that because Tavallodi looked like a police officer, Wacker should have treated him like one. Although witnesses said Wacker was defending himself against Tavallodi, detectives repeated the security guard’s claim of self-defense. The detectives declined to comment for this story.
In 2010, the district attorney’s office ruled that the shooting was justified. But in 2011, a jury in a civil lawsuit found Tavallodi had acted in a “malicious or oppressive” manner and awarded Wacker’s mother $1.4 million in damages, paid by the security company’s insurance provider.
In 2013, Kolacz was living near an encampment of homeless veterans in San Diego. Her bright pink hair was tucked underneath a black knit hat. She said she still is haunted by the memory of Wacker dying.
“I swear to God, it’s like he wanted to tell me, ‘I’m so sorry, babe, I love you,’ ” she said. “And he fucked up. And he should have just ran away from this dude, whether he was in the wrong or not. And he was so wrong. He was so in the wrong.”
The California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services staff received a report of the shooting. But they filed it away and declined to take action on Tavallodi’s armed-guard license, according to interviews with department officials. Tavallodi was invited back to work, but he declined.
Even though the state took no action and he wanted to return to police work, Tavallodi said no one wanted to hire him after the news coverage and civil suit. His police certification and armed-guard license eventually lapsed.
Former CIR reporter Ryan Gabrielson, who now works for ProPublica, and CIR reporter Rachael Bale contributed to this story. CNN senior investigative producer Scott Zamost and CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin also contributed. It was edited by Robert Salladay and Narda Zacchino and copy edited by Sheela Kamath and Nikki Frick.
Shoshana Walter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.