About five minutes after Hurlbut ceased filming, a trolley cop approached Hurlbut and asked to see his pass. The officer took Hurlbut’s pass, and while examining the pass, asked Hurlbut where he was headed. When Hurlbut answered he was headed to La Mesa on the orange line, the officer told him to wait over by the trolley. As Hurlbut walked over to the track the officer had indicated, the officer told another officer nearby to make sure Hurlbut got on the next trolley.
“The track he wanted me to wait by is farther away from their SUV and the trolley cops’ activities in general,” said Hurlbut. “I interpreted the exchange to mean that something would happen if I wasn’t on the next trolley. I took his meaning to be that they wanted me to clear out of the station. I caught the 8:34 p.m. trolley.”
In response to recent assaults against transit security officers, the 10News I-Team began an investigation into Heritage’s practices in July of last year. According to a contract they obtained, the Metropolitan Transit System’s contract for security with Heritage is for five years with a maximum payout of $25 million, beginning in 2006.
While unarmed officers earn an hourly wage ranging from $7.50 to $10.76/hour, armed officers make from $10.50 to $12.73/hour. Armed supervisors earn between $13.40 and $23.48. Armed lieutenants can bring in up to $25.23, while captains can earn as much as $32.34 per hour.
Several trolley officers spoke to 10News under the condition of anonymity and claimed Heritage did not provide proper training for its employees. Two officers who spoke to 10News’ Mitch Blacher said officers who carry guns are not trained to handle critical situations.
“It’s dangerous for the officers and, to some extent, the public,” one former officer stated.
State regulations require all security guards to have a minimum 40 hours of training. Ken Moller, president of Heritage Security Services, said their transit officers receive 164 hours of training, and those carrying weapons must be requalified every quarter.
Following the incident, Hurlbut emailed Heritage Security Services a link to the video, asking for a comment, but he never heard back. Ken Moller ([email protected]), president of Heritage Security Services, also ignored several requests to obtain a comment for this story.
NBC 7/39 News interviewed Hurlbut on September 18, 2009, about the incident and did a brief segment that same night on their 11:00 p.m. newscast. Moller did comment for NBC, stating, “We have no right to tell people they can’t shoot down there. My officers were wrong in telling him that. And I put that word out as soon as I saw the video. It’s a public place, and people can certainly shoot video down there if they want to.”
Moller did not mention the excessive force used against the smoker.
Hurlbut also emailed MTS and received the following reply from Belinda Fragger ([email protected]): “Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. Your email has been forwarded to MTS Trolley for handling. MTS case #41411.”
Hurlbut never heard back from Fragger or MTS.
San Diego Reader’s request to view the incident report from that evening was denied by Tiffany Lorenzen, general counsel for Metropolitan Transit System, based on the California Public Records Act, which exempts documents from disclosure that are either: (1) records pertaining to current litigation to which the public agency is a party; or (2) records of complaints to, or investigations conducted by the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, and any state, or local police agency.
Lorenzen did not confirm MTS’s reason for refusing to disclose the incident report.
Now that the video has been seen and questioned, Hurlbut hopes some answers follow.
“Heritage Security and MTS need to have transparency regarding the rights of commuters. It should be as easy for the public to address and fix problems they have with trolley guards. We, as the general public, have the right to know what exactly their job is and what they are and are not permitted to do.”
You can view both videos (the one Hurlbut shot and the NBC 7/39 segment) at the following address: theworldisraw.com/illegal-photography/.
— Kathryn Snyder