News & Politics

My Dangerous Encounter With a Supermarket Security Guard & His Gun

'For the first time in my life, I experienced overwhelming, palpable fear.' Was it a Brink's guard or a Blackwater mercenary pointing his gun at her?

For years, since the United States invaded Iraq, I've witnessed countless photo and video images of innocent civilians -- men, women, teens and children -- being rudely and aggressively threatened by hired uniformed militants (mostly men), wielding guns. I've seen these images from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, Palestine and more. Whether they be armed American military threatening Iraqis, armed Israeli soldiers threatening Palestinians, or armed Ethiopian troops threatening Somalis, the images have always disturbed me. There's an inherent injustice to such blatant imbalance of power. An injustice I suffered recently myself.

The oddity here is that unlike those less-fortunate innocents in war zones who faced the guns of hired aggressors, I was not in a war zone when I faced mine. I wasn't even in a high-crime zone. I was in a gentle middle-class suburb, where my aggressor, an armed Brink's, Inc. security guard, was in full combat mode performing his non-war-zone duty. My aggressor more typified the machismo of a Blackwater guard than the demeanor of community-minded Brink's, when he flailed his loaded gun at me, as though he'd done it often before. My armed Brink's aggressor was not merely disrespectful. He was downright hostile and dangerous. He treated me as his enemy and freely showed me his force.

Here's how it happened:

On Nov. 6, at approximately 12:45 p.m. on a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, I walked through a parking lot en route to my neighborhood Albertsons market to pick up a prescription. I paid no mind to the Brink's armored truck to my right, as it waited alongside the store. The second I reached the store entrance, the uniformed Brink's guard emerged from the market with his gun outstretched, pointing in my direction. His face was turned away from his gun, leaving him unaware of my presence. Before I knew it, I'd walked right up to his gun, stopping inches before colliding. The suddenness of my stop thrust me slightly forward. I was so close to his gun that I saw its every groove -- from its "sexy" color and shape -- to its perfect fit in his hand. Its glimmer still glares in my mind.

Just then the guard turned and saw me and completely lost his cool. He flinched at my proximity just as I flinched at his. He became more aggressive despite my obvious fear. Instead of assessing that I was no threat and pulling back to allay my fear, he took the opposite tact. He became more aggressive and waved me off with his loaded gun, shaking it threateningly to move me away. I responded without hesitation, believing that if I hadn't, I might end up dead. In that one brief encounter, my entire 59 years of believing I was fearless evaporated in air. For the first time in my life, I experienced overwhelming, palpable fear and a vulnerability I'd never known.

I entered the market and went immediately to customer service to tell the store director what happened. I was clearly upset as I entered, as the store video would later show. Without going into further detail on what transpired in the store, let me just say that the store director at Albertsons couldn't care less. That part of my investigation is continuing, and has direct impact on why this article is being published today rather than closer to the date of the incident. Suffice it to say, Albertsons-Supervalu has steadily dropped the ball and is only fully coming on board now. Brink's, after all, is contracted by Albertsons. I'm Albertsons' customer -- not Brink's.

To be fair to this Brink's guard, and to those who work in armed-security services, I've learned quite a bit about the mind-set and dangers of being an armed guard. In fact, it's a highly dangerous profession, and in many ways, as underscored by a veteran LAPD officer with whom I spoke, more perilous than traditional law enforcement. In the realm of private security, where guards are transporting items of value, attackers hit directly at them. This differs from traditional law enforcers, who are commonly the pursuers and rarely the pursued. Thus Brink's guards and all private security who protect high-value targets must be hypervigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times. In fact, numerous Brink's and other security guards have been killed and wounded on the job.

Nonetheless, as I've also learned, Brink's guards have the option to unholster their weapons or to keep them in place as each situation demands. The guard who flailed his loaded firearm at me, unholstered it (as shown in the store video) and brandished it threateningly even though there was no imminent threat to his safety. His combat-style overzealous use of his weapon, his extreme edginess and his failure to accurately gauge his surroundings, resulted in a near collision between me and his gun that could have easily ended my life.

It's legal in California for a licensed private security guard to unholster his or her firearm if he or she perceives danger. Should the gun be unholstered, it must be pointed down. In my case, this gun was pointed toward me. At the time and date of my incident, no report of anything unusual in or around Albertsons was called by this guard, or by his team, in to the San Fernando headquarters where they're housed. Nor was anything out of the ordinary reported to the staff at the Albertsons before the guard left. The guard's clear view of the parking lot through the exit-way window, which would have shown me approaching, along with the full view of the parking lot for the driver of the armored vehicle, indicated no impending danger. Yet this guard unnecessarily and dangerously withdrew his weapon and launched into full combat-mode. He entered the parking lot with a brandished loaded firearm, and thus he endangered innocent civilians. 

Albertsons parking lot corner

(Photo of Albertsons corner where I encountered the guard, showing the guard's visibility to the parking lot through the exit-way window. The Brink's truck was alongside the wall of the building).

Unlike Albertsons-Supervalu, Brink's, Inc. took this matter seriously from the beginning -- at least after I circumvented its delaying bureaucracy and went to the top. Within 40 minutes of the incident, I was on the phone with Richard Brager, Brink's Pacific Region vice president, who provided the following written response nearly a month after the incident happened. I've also had several conversations with the direct supervisor of the aggressive Brink's guard. To date, I don't know the identity of the guard, nor specific details about him. Getting that information will require intervention by the court. I'm debating this action.

I've stated previously in this article that the guard I encountered was in full combat-mode. Not surprisingly for the type of work it performs, Brink's is ranked No. 18 nationally in hiring former military. I support our former military and would like all returning vets to have good jobs. However, with the high number of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I question whether jobs requiring firearms are preferable without prior mental health evaluation. Below is a copy of the requirements for an entry-level job opening at the same San Fernando Valley Brink's office where this aggressor guard works. One can see from the ad that skill requirements are minimal, and no psychological testing is mandated. According to a representative from that San Fernando office, this advertised driver/guard position is the first step before becoming a guard. That same representative also told me several guards in that office are currently in the military reserves and are rehired between deployments. This is admirable of Brink's, however, I would again emphasize the need to comprehensively evaluate all returnees prior to assigning them jobs with guns. The guard I encountered was clearly over the top for the calm, low-crime environment he was in. The guard I encountered was, in my estimation, at war.

The Brink's Company was founded in 1859. In all likelihood, the majority of us have encountered Brink's guards routinely throughout our lives. I've seen Brink's as far back as I can remember and have never felt frightened -- although I've made a concerted effort to steer clear of their paths. But it wasn't until Nov. 6 that I ever witnessed a guard's gun drawn in the performance of his job. For purposes of this article, I asked well over 100 people if they'd ever encountered a Brink's guard with his/her gun drawn. Only one person I questioned said yes -- an LAPD officer stationed in the West Valley. In my calls to police divisions throughout Los Angeles -- some in the most dangerous parts of the city -- the police officers I spoke with, except for this one, all reported never having seen a Brink's guard with his gun drawn. It does appear that the guard I encountered, who operated in the idyllic suburbs as though in the throes of war, was an anomaly.

But as this nation moves further into financial decline, greater numbers of Americans will become more and more desperate. Crime is bound to increase. Armed guards, such as the one I encountered, will become even more edgy as real threat levels grow. In my suburban area of Los Angeles, where my gun encounter occurred, home foreclosures abound. Retail establishments are shutting down. Hard times are getting harder. 

Over the past several years, Blackwater-style private security has flourished. Blackwater was in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in New Orleans. With the incoming Obama administration, it is hoped that Blackwater will lose its stature, and its contracts will lessen and lapse. Still, the culture of the macho mercenary has grown. The Brink's guard I encountered exhibited that similar style bravado. We, as citizens, must work diligently to protect ourselves from abuse. I know I will. Run-ins with guns aren't that easy to forget. There's no place in our world for mercenary justice. 

Authors note: A special thanks to my friends and colleagues, best-selling author Vincent Bugliosi and Op-Ed News Managing Editor Cheryl Biren-Wright for their insight, support and collaboration on this article. If you have ever encountered a Brink's or other private security guard in a non-threatening environment with his or her gun drawn, please state so in the comments -- along with any details you are able to provide. I do suspect there are some who have witnessed this in more dangerous parts of the nation. If so, please indicate where.

 

Linda Milazzo is a Los Angeles writer, educator and activist. Since 1974, she has divided her time between the entertainment industry, government organizations & community development projects and educational programs.