Many former law enforcement officers choose security as a second career or to bring in some extra cash. Some make the switch because they failed as police officers.
Yet only one state in the nation checks whether applicants with law enforcement backgrounds were fired because they screwed up. And even there, in Oregon, no one has been denied a security guard license because of a questionable police record.
In its investigation, Reveal discovered armed guards with histories of civil rights violations, excessive force and corruption that did not trail them from their former lives as police, sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers.
Some former officers continued to commit acts of violence, incompetence or abuse in their new positions.
In the disciplinary records of armed guards from a sampling of five states, about 14 percent of those with suspended or revoked guard licenses had prior law enforcement experience. In Florida, where police personnel records are public, 13 percent of disciplined armed guards were former law enforcement officers with disciplinary histories or failing grades on their law enforcement training or exams.
“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.”
911 dispatcher: What’s going on?
Security guard: I have a physical assault by two residents on a courtesy officer.
Dispatcher: OK. Does anybody have any weapons?
Security guard: Yes, I have one at this time. Which I did have to use.
Dispatcher: What did you use?
(Three shots are fired.)
Dispatcher (shouting): Who is shooting?
Security guard: (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?
Security guard: (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 had struck Andrae Oliver in the chest. Another hit a 19-year-old bystander in the leg. Oliver collapsed on the ground. As a crowd surged around him, his wife ran out of their nearby apartment and pulled Oliver 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.
By all accounts, the clash between Oliver and a suburban Atlanta apartment complex’s security guard, Kentae Greene, had been building for months.
But what witnesses did not know is that Greene had a history of violence in law enforcement before he switched to security. He had spent more than half of his brief tenure as a sheriff’s deputy under internal investigation.
During his two years as a deputy with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia, Greene had been accused of beating one inmate, choking two others and denting the side of someone’s pickup truck with his baton.
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.
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 the 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 and culminating in his fatal confrontation with Oliver on the night of Sept. 11, 2012.
Greene, now 31, 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 position that allowed him to live at the complex for free. Greene sometimes worked alongside off-duty Cobb County police officers, the same agency that would investigate the 2012 shooting.
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 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, who also is black, of racially profiling them.
Greene told Reveal that 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.
In the year he worked at Parkview, Greene got into physical fights with residents on at least six occasions, according to police reports. Greene told Reveal that he did not consider Oliver, 27, an official tenant because his name was not on the lease with his wife, Davine Thames, and their 1-year-old son.
Thames worked as a nursing assistant, while Oliver operated a forklift and attended ITT Technical Institute. He kept himself busy, Thames said, because he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder – he was an honorably discharged veteran of the Afghanistan War – for which he received support from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Vivid nightmares caused him to kick and jump in his sleep, and he drank every day.
“I guess it kept him mellow or whatever,” Thames said.
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. 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, 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.
Facing the couple, Greene said he took his gun out of his pocket and pointed it at them. The two backed off.
“Y’all didn’t think I had it in me, did you?” Greene yelled, according to police reports. “I’m undefeated.”
Thames went back inside the apartment while Oliver leaned against a car in the parking lot. Greene stood on the sidewalk next to the car as he called 911.
Witnesses and Greene himself provided conflicting accounts of what happened next.
The recorded call begins with the 911 dispatcher answering and Greene identifying himself. Calmly, he says he was assaulted by two residents and had to use a weapon. Six seconds later, gunshots can be heard on the recording, and Greene’s calm turns to panic.
Later, during an interview with detectives at the Cobb County police station, Greene contradicted his 911 call. According to the recording, Greene shot Oliver without uttering any warning.
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.”
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 Reveal 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.
Sam Tavallodi was a two-time loser. As a recent police academy graduate, 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 followed incidents in which he used excessive force and made “racial comments,” according to court documents.
Tavallodi, now 35, did not mention that past when he applied at Heritage Security Services in 2009 and became an armed guard with San Diego’s transit system.
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.
Then, on Sept. 11, 2009, at the Vista transit station, he encountered what he described as a loud, drunken couple waiting for a bus at about 8:30 p.m. 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.
Wacker had been on his way home with his fiancée, Rachael Kolacz, after a friend’s birthday celebration. 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 with Reveal.
When Kolacz asked Tavallodi for the time, he told her to get a watch, according to police reports. Wacker snapped back, and the confrontation plummeted 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.”
Tavallodi offered Reveal his explanation: “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 tried 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 out of the bus station into the street. As Wacker held his burning face in his hands and tried 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 Reveal 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 the backup of 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.
Tavallodi also cited his law enforcement background as a plus. He denied that he had been the subject of internal affairs investigations.
“I have more experience and training than anybody that worked (at Heritage), including all my supervisors,” Tavallodi said. “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 the following year, 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.
Reveal tracked down Kolacz in 2013. She was living on the street near an encampment of homeless veterans in San Diego, her bright pink hair tucked underneath a black knit hat. She said she remains 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 (Tavallodi) 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 against Tavallodi’s armed-guard license, according to interviews with department officials.
When Heritage invited him back to work, Tavallodi declined. He wanted to go back to being a police officer instead. But after the news coverage and civil suit, Tavallodi said no one wanted to hire him.
His police certification and armed-guard license eventually lapsed.
This story was edited by Robert Salladay and Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath and Nikki Frick.
Shoshana Walter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.