The Denver City Council tossed out a three year, $25 million contract Monday night with Allied Universal, a private security company whose guards in 2018 assaulted a Black, unarmed Denver artist waiting to catch a train at Union Station.
The contract would have set up 98 unarmed guards and 11 armed guards throughout 19 city properties, including the animal shelter and city-run buildings downtown, such as the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building and the City and County Building. The deal would have run through 2023, with the option to extend the contract through 2025.
The council’s decision came down just past 11 p.m. Monday in a narrow margin, with seven council members opposed, six in favor. Councilors Candi CdeBaca, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Hinds, Paul Kashmann, Amanda Sandoval, Amanda Sawyer and Jamie Torres agreed to spike the deal. Council members Kendra Black, Jolon Clark, Kevin Flynn, Chris Herndon, Robin Kniech and Debbie Ortega voted to move it forward.
California-based Allied Universal is no stranger to Denver. In fact, council members in May OK’d a $4 million contract with the company to run the city's temporary emergency homeless shelters at the National Western Complex and Denver Coliseum — a separate contract the council extended for a new total of $5.5 million through the end of this year in another narrow 7-6 vote on Monday night.
The Regional Transportation District also contracts with the company to provide security services on public transit and at certain places, including Union Station, where Denver artist Raverro Stinnett was beaten two years ago by two Allied guards and sustained permanent brain damage, according to Stinnett’s lawsuit.
Three of the guards involved in the assault were convicted of criminal charges and terminated from the company. Allied has reached a settlement with Stinnett, Jeremy Lee, Allied’s regional vice president, announced Monday.
Allied has also reportedly faced numerous lawsuits nationwide, including earlier this year in Chicago, where the parents of a kindergarten student sued the school district and security company after a guard slammed the young boy against a table and choked him with both hands “without provocation or justification,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Y’all have a credibility problem,” Councilman Chris Hinds told Allied Universal representatives Monday night. “I don’t trust Allied.”
Lee called Stinnett’s assault “reprehensible” and a “black eye” for the company during a Denver City Council committee hearing on Oct. 6, when the contract was advanced to the full council. The deal was discussed in the same committee the week prior, but was held one more week to allow for more time to address council members’ lingering questions and concerns.
During committee meetings, Allied officials highlighted the company's training requirements, which have been beefed up from 24 hours to 40 for unarmed guards, and more for guards carrying weapons. Facing tough questions from committee members, the security company also said it would work with Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler, a lauded local equity consultant, to analyze company practices.
Still, the moves come “a little bit too late,” Council President Gilmore said Monday. “It’s a lot of flurrying, a lot of shuffling, but it wasn’t going to be done unless we asked the questions, unless we held it up in committee, unless we had this courtesy public hearing,” she said. “It feels like it’s a house of cards.”
Other council members, including Kniech, felt that the company deserved another chance.
“I believe in redemption,” she said in the Oct. 6 committee meeting. “I don’t want to live in a world where there is no opportunity for a corporation to repair harm and to be accountable both to an individual and to a community.”
Monday night’s 30-minute public hearing drew some supporters for Allied as well, including Luis Ponce, the head of research at SEIU Local 105, the union that would represent the security guards.
Allied Universal is a “safe choice,” Ponce said, and a company that has shown to be a “responsible contractor” and to “respect the benefits, wages and rights” of its security officers.
James Ginsburg, deputy director of Denver’s Department of Housing Stability, echoed Ponce, calling Allied a “very positive partner” at the city’s emergency homeless shelters that the city stood up during the pandemic.
But others, including CdeBaca, said the thought of leaving any room for debate around this contract made her “stomach turn.” She voted against advancing the Allied contract in both committee meetings, as well as against the $1.5 million contract extension Monday night that will provide Allied services at the emergency homeless shelters through December.
“Denver should be doing our own good business and denying this contract. We can revisit after they’re better trained, when the local cases are settled and paid and they’re doing a better job at being humans,” she said. “We need to boycott any entity perpetuating racism, classism and facilitating murder with taxpayer dollars.”
Many Denver residents who spoke during the public comment period agreed with CdeBaca, many of whom called out Stinnett by name.
“All I want to know is what the eff are you people thinking?” yelled Mary-Katherine Fleming. “In the middle of a movement for Black lives, what in the world makes you think this is a good idea?”
Maro Zagoras, a resident and parent in Denver, saw the play about Stinnett that was inspired after Allied guards pleaded guilty to his assault.
“Raverro did nothing. He was an artist. He did nothing, and he has a traumatic injury at this point,” she said, holding back tears. “It’s been difficult for me to be on this call this whole time, listening to people from unions, people who have an interest in doing this work.
“I appreciate that. But I am just here as a citizen who has an interest in keeping people safe,” she said. “I really hope that you keep us all safe.”
Now that the Allied contract is off the table, Kami Johle, director of administration for Denver General Services, said the city will look “at all of our options” to determine next steps.
Options could include reapproaching the other two contract bidders: Securitas and Colorado-based HSS, Inc, which is currently the city’s security provider and has been for 13 years. The city may also release a new request for proposals.
Either way, Johle said the city will likely need to extend the contract with HSS in the meantime as it figures out a new way forward. No matter which company is picked, however, it will likely come with legal baggage, she said.
“Any security contractor in the security company that is able to serve the size and the needs of the city are going to be a national company,” she said in a committee meeting Sept. 29, “and they are going to have current and previous litigation.”