Security guard's restraint of panhandler in front of St. Paul ice cream shop draws scrutiny

The method a security guard used to restrain a panhandler outside the Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul last Wednesday night drew scrutiny from a crowd of onlookers, with some witnesses claiming the guard’s use of force and the way he pulled on the man's hair was excessive. The interaction was filmed by a FOX 9 digital reporter. Community activists who were shown the video expressed outrage, while the footage drew contrasting opinions from two use-of-force experts consulted by the station.

"From the reactions from the crowd to the excessive use of force, it is beyond clear that this security guard was more focused on invoking violence and fear than providing any sense of security. He could have broken that young man’s neck and never provided a reason as to why he was manhandling this individual this way," said Margaret Sullivan, a community activist in St. Paul.

St. Paul Police responded to the scene at 8:35 p.m. and separated the 25-year-old man and the 52-year-old guard.  Police detained the man and then arrested him on an active warrant for felony theft. Since that incident was unrelated to the incident depicted in the video, he is not being named in this story as FOX 9 generally only names suspects if they have been charged with a crime.

Saint Paul Police. Sgt. Dave McCabe said the incident is still under investigation, and police had not yet reviewed footage of the encounter. He said police had also reached out to the neighborhood council and the city’s Homeless Assistance Response Team, a fairly new unit within the Department of Safety and Inspections, to address the underlying tensions between unsheltered individuals and businesses along that stretch of Grand Avenue. Police ask that anyone with information about the incident call them at 651-266-5632.

Chase Huffman, one of the owners of Grand Ole Creamery, said the business has had issues with that man harassing customers in front of their store for years and that he had trespassed him from the property. He added that they are a registered sidewalk cafe, making it illegal to panhandle there per city code. He said he did not know if the guard was licensed, but he had worked for them for over 20 years, and they stood by the way he had handled the situation.

According to Huffman, the guard had approached the man after customers had complained. He said their surveillance footage showed that when the guard confronted him, the man initially got away and walked down the sidewalk to the other side of the store, where the guard pursued him, but the resulting confrontation there had not been caught on camera. 

The Grand Ole Creamery issued the following statement: 

"With respect to the incident that took place on July 6th around 830pm: an individual who has a trespass notice document against him by the Grand Ole Creamery, illegally trespassed again and created a dangerous & hostile atmosphere for our customers. Despite multiple warnings and a trespass notice to not enter our store, he came to our store and created a hostile atmosphere. Therefore, our security team took steps to protect our customers and removed him. Security awaited for the arrival of the police so they could take over. Once the police arrived the individual was arrested for outstanding warrants, including the trespass violation. Thankfully, no one was injured in the incident, and the Grand Ole Creamery remains committed to providing a safe family environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect."

According to the police report, the guard told officers that when he asked the man to leave, he threw a notebook at him and then shoved him. The guard said he then pushed the man back and held him down until police arrived, the report says. 

Rezan Ahmed, 19 of St. Paul, was the woman shown in the video saying, "Please, sir, can you not use so much force?" "You’re going to kill him," and "Oh my god, you’re going to break his neck." The guard replied saying, "nope," and "I’m not breaking anything."

She told FOX 9 that she first noticed the man leaving a nearby bar, and then saw him eating by the sidewalk. A few minutes later, she heard a commotion behind her and turned around to see the guard asking the man to leave, before the guard then stuck the man’s hand, causing him to drop his food. She said that when the man turned around to pick up his food, the guard grabbed him, pushed him against the wall and began trying to restrain him. 

"I was just scared for his life because the way he was holding him in the neck, it was just in a very weird position. So I thought he might break his neck," she said.

 She added: "All I could think about at the time was the possibility that this man would be hurt given how the security was holding him against the metal rods near them. 

Other witnesses interviewed by FOX 9 also said they thought the guard went too far, including Lidia, a 12-year-old girl who was in the store as the situation unfolded out front. She spoke to FOX 9 with the permission of her parents.  

"I felt like that went way too far, too much force. If he would have been more straight up instead of using that much force and almost like breaking his neck, He's not gonna be like that would have ended up much better," she said. 

Lidia's sister, Gelilia, 16, added: "There was also other people from outside who had a better view that were telling the [guard] to put less pressure and be more gentle. So I guess his job is as a security guard, but like also, you don't have to exert that much pressure and possibly seriously harm someone," she said. 

The guard declined an interview request from FOX 9. 

Two use of force experts reviewed the footage at FOX 9’s request and offered contrasting opinions. 

Michael Rozin, who served in the Israel Defense Forces as a sergeant is president of Rosen Security Consulting and is an instructor at the University of Minnesota’s master's program in Securities Technology. He described the guard’s actions as unprofessional and potentially illegal. He pointed to the state law that governs how and when security guards hired by a business can detain individuals, which states, "the person detained shall be informed promptly of the purpose of the detention and may not be subjected to unnecessary or unreasonable force."

"Regardless of the reasonableness to detain this individual by a security officer or not, the way the detention process went through was extremely unprofessional and potentially negligent when it comes to the use of force aspect of it. It demonstrated pretty poor training and control techniques and I think contradicting, in my opinion, several of the Minnesota statutes that specifically stated the person should not be subject to an unnecessary, unreasonable force," he said. 

Rozin said the way the guard had grabbed the man’s hair and pressed down on his neck stood out to him. "I think the holding individual by the hair as a way to control them is extremely reckless and very, very unprofessional, as well as deploying that knee in the neck. Those are the two things that really stuck out to me. And that not only make it unprofessional but actually, I think, violates the reasonable use of force here," he said. 

Micky McComb, a retired New Jersey State Trooper who now works as a use-of-force consultant and witness, also reviewed the video and said he found the guard’s use of force to be reasonable. "What I would say is the options utilized were reasonable and were objectively reasonable based on the actions of the individual he was dealing with," McComb said. 

As to the way the guard had gripped the man’s hair, McComb said it was a technique called a "hair pull" in Israel. "It's a good way of controlling the head. He wasn't manipulating the head or the spinal column by moving his head all around. He had a hold of it. It was pushing his head down," he said. 

He added that he thought the man had tried to move his leg back to potentially kick the guard. "The security officer didn't respond by kicking, punching or doing anything else other than try to control it," he said.  

Michelle Gross, head of Communities United Against Police Brutality, also reviewed the footage. "The security guy's bending the man over the pole, use of his hair as a handle to fold his body and hold his head down in that manner, etc. were all assault and should have been addressed by the police. Failure to address that security person's conduct is straight out biased policing," he said. 

Karen J. Larson, a St. Paul organizer who also has a show on Frogtown radio, had this reaction to the video:

"I just watched this very disturbing video of a security guard using unnecessary force on an unsheltered community member. No humanity. Zero deescalation. Unacceptable!"

Rozin, the security consultant, said he viewed the incident as part of a larger problem, as in cities across the country, businesses are hiring more security guards or companies in response to the uptick in crime.  

"What we have seen is the level of professionalism, experience, and training capability varies greatly. Especially when businesses can't afford the more established [companies] and with that more expensive rates… unfortunately, many times they end up with individuals without proper training, without the proper experience, without proper insurance and liability protection. And so, I think it's a serious problem," he said.