JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Three security guards from the same company are accused of overstepping the law, according to court documents.
The owner and two employees of Protective Services of Florida, a private security company that works at some of Jacksonville's most crime-ridden apartment complexes, were arrested this year.
Last month, Marcus Williams, 32, and Dewayne Albertie, 29, were arrested on warrants following an investigation that is still ongoing. Both men are facing a charge of false imprisonment.
Williams, a former police chief who led departments in both Florida and Georgia before becoming the owner of the security firm, is also facing a charge of armed trespassing.
The complaints detail a case of security guards acting as though they have sworn police powers. But the owner of Protective Services claims his actions were legal.
In early February, according to court documents, Williams and Albertie detained a man who they said had been speeding through the Camelot Gardens Apartments on the city's Westside, slammed him up against the car and put him in handcuffs.
They searched his car, without his permission, and then his apartment, court documents show. There are no signs in the complex nor in the man’s lease that states tenants are subject to detention and search.
Williams told investigators that the man's mother, Kesha Singleton, gave them permission to search the apartment. But she told News4Jax on Tuesday that they went into the apartment without her consent.
She said she was asleep inside her apartment when her two teenage sons woke her up and said their brother, Antonio, was being beaten up in the parking lot.
"I went to the door and that's when I saw them slamming my child against the car and slamming him on the concrete," Singleton said. "So, I was, like, 'What's going on?'"
She said Williams and Albertie had her son in handcuffs but didn't explain why. She said Williams didn't know whether her son resided with her.
"He asked me if my son was on my lease," she said. "Yes, he is on my lease."
Singleton said she then went to her car to get the lease, which has Antonio's name on it, when the security guards entered her apartment and started searching every room without her consent.
"They went into the back room. Woke my grandson up, (who) is 2 years old, and made everyone come to the living room," she said. "I told him, 'You don't have probable cause to come into my house.' And he said, 'Yes.' He does."
According to Williams' arrest warrant, Williams told police that Singleton’s son was detained because he had been speeding into the apartment complex while playing loud music. Singleton said her son told them he had a firearm in the car. Florida Statute 493 Section 7 gives security guards the right to search property if the weapon is posing a threat to the security guard. But the same statute also states security guards must also contact police.
When the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office eventually arrived, court documents state, Williams admitted that neither he nor Albertie ever called police.
But Williams told News4Jax on Tuesday that he and his employee took appropriate actions.
“Why wasn’t JSO called immediately? In the situation we have, we always call JSO. This particular incident, we’re gathering information and I’ve determined through my command staff and my decision not to contact JSO to release it on what we call a community rule violation. I wanted to handle this versus criminally," Williams said. “Everything that we’ve done is within Florida Statute 493, as well as local and federal law.”
Part of the security guards’ argument is that the Fourth Amendment only applies to sworn law enforcement officers and not civilian security guards hired by property managers.
“We not only have the authority as a security officer to enforce the rules, but we have an authority as an agent of the property," Williams said. "As an agent of property, your authority is no different than the ownership or the management agency of that particular grounds.”
Williams cites Florida Statute 83.53, which states a landlord may enter a dwelling for protection and preservation of property, but the landlord still needs to give reasonable notice unless it’s an emergency.
When asked what the emergency was, Williams said, “I can’t go further into the case because the case is still open.”
Williams said his guards have body cameras, but he was not able to discuss whether the cameras were used during the incident.
Defense attorney John Holzbaur, who is not involved in the case, is a former prosecutor. News4Jax asked him whether the guards did anything illegal based on what’s stated by everyone involved in the arrest warrant.
“It’s clear from the statements in the narrative that these security guards were not acting under the color of the law and certainly not sworn law enforcement, so it’s pretty stunning to see them detain an individual and actually handcuff an individual and then actually enter an apartment and conduct a search. It’s certainly not legal," Holzbaur said. "These security guards, based on these limited facts, are probably looking at serious charges to include false imprisonment, aggravated assault and possibly burglary.”
Holzbaur added that it's possible more charges could be pending against the two security guards.
Antonio Singleton was not charged with a crime. The family was evicted from the apartment complex because they were considered unruly and disorderly while confronting the security guards.
On Feb. 10, several days after the incident at Camelot Gardens Apartments, another security guard employed by Protective Services of Florida was arrested at the Washington Heights Apartments in Northwest Jacksonville.
Timothy Morris, 29, is charged with battery.
According to his arrest report, Morris, who was wearing a mask, was checking out the sounds of gunfire when he encountered a man in the complex. The man, upon hearing the gunshots and seeing a masked man, started running.
The arrest report states Morris caught up to him, bent him over the rail of the second-floor balcony, choked him and pepper-sprayed him.
The Sheriff's Office arrived, and after doing interviews, arrested Morris.