JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The owner of a private security company, which works at some of Jacksonville's most crime-ridden apartment complexes, has used questionable tactics in the past to illegally search people's apartments while on patrol, even going as far as to instruct his security guards to do the same, according to former employees.
The two former employees of Protective Services of Florida came forward after News4Jax reported Tuesday evening that the company's owner, Marcus Williams, and two other security guards employed by the firm had been arrested since February, accused of overstepping the law.
Williams, who is a former police chief, and his employee, Dewayne Albertie, are facing charges of false imprisonment. According to court documents, the two security guards detained a tenant at Camelot Gardens Apartments on Jacksonville's Westside and searched his apartment without permission.
A third security guard employed by Protective Services of Florida, Timothy Morris, was also arrested on a charge of battery in a separate incident at Washington Heights Apartments in Northwest Jacksonville.
After the report aired on "The 10 O'Clock News" Tuesday night, Billy Bonney and Kenneth James, both former employees of Protective Services of Florida, called News4Jax, saying they are not surprised Williams is facing a charge of false imprisonment, as well as armed trespassing.
“There have been times where we have actually pulled people out without even having probable cause at Washington Heights and Roosevelt Gardens," James said.
Both men accused Williams of encouraging his employees to search people’s apartments without notice or probable cause.
"They would follow somebody in because they were speeding on the property or they smelled marijuana, so they forced themselves into the unit or they would do a surprise inspection because they suspected drug activity," Bonney said.
The men said Williams justified those actions by saying he and his guards were agents of the owner of the property.
"I knew the law, but I was not totally sure about the law altogether," James said.
The two men also accused Williams of encouraging employees to openly carry AR-15 rifles while on patrol inside the Washington Heights apartment complex.
“He would inform us that he had the authority to do that under the federal guidelines because it’s a HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) property and that it was a critical infrastructure," Bonney said.
A critical infrastructure is a building that is in danger of destruction or harm to people and is in need of high-level protection due to a state of emergency. Bonney said that was not the case at the apartment complex.
Several people at Washington Heights told News4Jax that security officers routinely walk around with AR-15s strapped to their backs and that they would put the guns away when the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office would come around.
Williams is also facing lawsuit filed by Bonney. The suit accuses Williams of not paying his employees.
“There are two named, but six people came forward and provided information," Bonney said. "I can tell you there are several other lawsuits about to go forward with the same events.”
When News4Jax contacted Williams on Wednesday to see if he wanted to respond to the allegations and the lawsuit, he declined to comment.