From protests around the world to organized movements. From legislation to judicial consequences. In whatever avenue, in whatever way, the issue of misuse of force, predominantly by police officers, has been a prevalent topic of discussion and action for many years. With the advent of social media, and the everyday person's ability to record the world around them, the public has had no other option than to become aware of a far-too-often repeated problem. Misuse of force leads to sudden in-custody deaths. Yet in the conversations, the movements, the protests, and until VERY recently the legislation, there seems to be one group left out of the conversation that absolutely should have been included.
Private security guards.
With an estimated 1.2 million employed across the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor private security guards have now surpassed the number of police officers employed in our country by nearly double. While there are between 10-14 thousand individual contract security companies currently operating in the United States, there is only one company large enough to have maintained a proverbial hold on the market.
With over 160,000 guards employed as of 2020, and a reported 85 countries that utilize its services, the Philadelphia and Santa Ana-based firm Allied Universal Security is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate with their guards stationed everywhere from hospitals to transit stations, sports arenas, and more.
And in hospitals, transit stations, and sports arenas across the country, Allied Universal Security guards have managed to find themselves in highly suspicious situations where someone ended up dead, and guards more often than not ended up with little to no legal consequence.
While there has been a multitude of cases that could be referenced in this article, one of the most recent is so fresh that there are still far more questions than answers. It involves a Berkeley hospital with a less than stellar reputation, a legendary Bay Area musician, and a company meant to protect, somehow involved in yet another "suspicious" death.
THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF STEPHEN ‘ZUMBI’ GAINES
Stephen Gaines checked himself into Alta Bates Hospital on Ashby Ave in Berkeley CA sometime on August 11th, 2021 due to complications caused by COVID-related symptoms. Gaines, who also had asthma, had been feeling ill for a little over two weeks before he decided to head to the emergency room, according to friends.
On August 13th, 2021, Stephen Gaines aka Baba Zumbi of the Zion-I Crew, was found dead on the fourth floor of the Alta Bates hospital in what Berkeley PD called a "suspicious" manner, according to initial reports. In a recent special meeting called by the Berkeley Police Accountability Board, attorney Elizabeth Grossman, who is currently representing the Gaines family, spoke on the case:
"...From what we know, we think that this is a case of positional asphyxiation not unlike other very significant cases that we have been aware of in the last year. And if our local law enforcement, similar to other police departments throughout the country, are disregarding positional asphyxiation and the abuse of force by others and not calling such actions a homicide… I think that is something that we would be very concerned about."
While the investigation is "still ongoing" despite Gaines tragically losing his life over six months ago, the lack of information has left many asking questions. One of the biggest being:
Who killed Zumbi?
According to initial comments from Berkeley PD when the death first became public back in August, officers arrived on the scene to find Gaines already non-responsive. He was restrained, on his stomach, with multiple security guards from Allied Universal on top of or surrounding him.
In a hospital where people go to be healed, Gaines never made it out alive.
Stephen 'Baba Zumbi' Gaines was 49 years old.
Unfortunately, Zumbi is only one of many who have suffered the same fate at the hands of Allied Universal; and family members, friends, loved ones, and in Zumbi's case, millions of fans around the world are left wondering how this could have happened.
SO DIFFERENT, YET SO THE SAME
There is a multitude of factors that play into sudden in-custody deaths, whether it occurs with law enforcement officers or private security guards. Both entities are (theoretically) required to "protect and serve" the community in which they are assigned. Both entities are, in some form, armed.Yet while they serve many of the same functions, there are quite a few differences.
Police officers are required to receive nearly 700 hours of training before they are able to receive an assignment. Private security guards are only required to receive a total of 40 hours of training; and of that 40 hours, only 8 hours is initially required before receiving an assignment.
Of the nearly 700 hours, officers receive upwards of 32 hours of that training specifically dedicated to de-escalation tactics and non-lethal response to a suspected threat; and even with that amount of training, officers killed 1,134 people in the United States in 2021, with 153 of those deaths occurring in California.
Security guards receive no training specifically dedicated to de-escalation tactics and non-lethal response to a suspected threat; and there is no database currently tracking the number of people killed by private security guards -- because one of the biggest differences between private security and police is those police officers have use of force standards that they (again, in theory) have to adhere to. There is no such use of force standard for private security guards.
If it weren't for the 2019 death of Mario Matthews, once again at the hands of Allied Universal Security, there would still be no requirements for use of force training.
THE DEATH OF MARIO MATTHEWS
It was a few hours away from sunrise on July 2nd, 2019, when a shirtless Mario Matthews made his way into an open door of the Golden One Center, the Downtown Sacramento arena where the Kings play their home games. Two exhibition games had been hosted that night, with an outdoor concert happening right after, and according to his family, Mario attended all three events.
Per surveillance video from above the court, Mario began to make his way through the arena, he ended up on the basketball court where the exhibition games had played out mere hours before. Walking slowly, and with caution, he laid down in the center of the Kings logo, arms, and legs spread as if he were making a snow angel. He laid there, in repose, for about 15 seconds until he suddenly sat up, crossing his legs over each other, almost as if in prayer. When he was through, he got up and began to circle the perimeter of the basket, mimicking ball play. Dribbling an invisible ball between his legs, stutter-stepping around a non-existent opponent. While the behavior may have been what many would consider "erratic" one thing was clear from the video.
He was causing no threat or making no form of aggression towards employees who were tidying up the space around him.
Matthews goes through this routine for about two and a half minutes before we see an Allied Universal Security guard running full speed towards him. Matthews immediately turns in his place and runs back towards the hallway where he'd originally entered. That is where the court video surveillance ends, and the video from cameras located inside the hallway where Matthews is chased begins.
He begins grabbing the nylon and plastic dividers in the hallway, dragging them with him as he goes, however, he is blocked in by two security guards, so he has nowhere to run. A minute later we see Matthews down on the floor, two security guards surrounding him.
Matthews is restrained, arms bent back in awkward angles as they handcuff him. You can see Matthews' body reacting to the pain, legs flailing, his torso and head twisting and turning in opposite directions, attempting to find comfort where none existed. His body was experiencing our system's automatic, physiological reaction to danger. One where the perception of a threat activates your nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body for fight or flight. It is an instinct meant to assist in our survival.
It is also a response very often confused with "resisting" in cases of sudden in-custody deaths.
For twenty minutes, Matthews is held on the ground, one security guard pressing their full weight into his legs, the other pressing his full weight into Matthews' neck, He became unresponsive during this time, and medical teams transported him to a nearby hospital. He never woke up. Two days later, he was pronounced dead at that same hospital.
He was 39 years old.
He was unarmed.
No criminal charges were brought against the guards involved in Matthew's murder.
Three months later, history seemed to repeat itself.
THE DEATH OF ANGEL ZAPATA HERNANDEZ
On October 25th, 2019, Angel Zapata Hernandez was spotted walking on the train tracks near the Kettner Blvd station in San Diego. According to the guard that first spotted him, Zapata Hernandez was "acting erratically" and feared that Angel would "walk in front of a trolley or train." Watching the surveillance footage, which lasted for a little over 30 minutes from start to finish, tells the tale of a man who seems to be suffering through something. At first, it looks as if he is just walking across an intersection, and using the train tracks as the bridge between two streets. But you can see him pause, then pace, then pause before he crosses. He comes back and repeats a similar process, seemingly unsure of where he was going, or what he was doing.
Two Allied Universal security guards approach Angel near the level crossing signals of the station. As they begin to ask him questions, it seems to become even more apparent that he is under some sort of duress. He hands over his ID when asked, but the answers to the questions he is asked sometimes seem nonsensical. He seems distracted, nervous, anxious all wrapped up into one. They tell him to turn around and put his hands against the wall, and he takes a few steps away from them. He openly admits he has a little weed on him, as he begins to walk back to where they direct him. He nervously runs down a list of things he has in his pockets; his phone, his weed, and a few other random pieces. He tells them his father's name. But the expression on his face seems to indicate he is becoming more afraid, despite breaking no laws and having been accused of no crime. Angel takes off running.
He is chased for about 100 yards before he stops and surrenders to the guards. He is standing, and compliant as they put his hands behind his back and handcuff him. But again, the slight incoherence of his words seems to confuse the guards.
"What are you doing dude? What are you on?!" the guard yells at Angel.
"I'm just on Sativa..." Angel says, the answer seemingly coherent. Yet he dives back into sentences he leaves unfinished, telling the guards to 'look at the rails' and talking about prayer. The more you listen, the more it seems like Angel is having a conversation with someone completely separate from the guards. His breath is becoming more rapid, his voice becomes louder as he speaks. He slides back and forth once more between coherently responding about what he's on, to fading back into the conversation with the invisible person. The longer he is in handcuffs, the longer he becomes anxious. He begins to struggle.
The guards warn him he will go on the ground if he doesn't calm down. About two minutes later, they get Angel to the pavement, placing him first on his back and then quickly flipping him to his stomach.
Angel becomes more incoherent. Screaming about Tupac, and aliens, and that the train tracks are a bridge. It is now more clear than ever that he is in the middle of a severe mental health crisis. His breathing intensifies as he has two men pressing against his back, and he attempts to flip, to make it easier to breathe. The guards respond by pressing him back down, harder, this time one resting their knee against his neck, the other pressing into his back.
It is then that it seems like Angel slips back to coherence.
"Why are you so mean?" he asks them through stressed screams.
They press harder. He struggles and screams. First begging for McDonald’s, and then resorting to begging. Crying. Pleading for them to move.
"Stop. Please..." Angel yells. They press harder, and he goes quiet. By this time, he had already been restrained, face down, with men pressing into him for five minutes,"...I just need to breathe!"
Those were the last words Angel spoke. For the next four minutes, Allied Universal guards continued to kneel on him. With the body cam footage, you can see the last breaths Zapata Hernandez takes before falling silent. As San Diego Police arrive on scene, they tell guards to keep him on the ground and do not check Angel for a pulse.
"Has he calmed down a bit?" SDPD asks the guards.
"Yeah, he's calmed down. Angel, you still alive dude?" the Allied Universal guard asks, shaking Angel. But he was already dead.
Angel was schizophrenic and was later determined to be suffering through a mental health crisis.
He was 24 years old.
He was unarmed.
No criminal charges were brought against the guards involved in Hernandez's murder.
.... BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE
While those cases are two of the more well-known, with Matthew's case spurring AB 229, a legislative piece passed in 2021 that would require private security to receive use of force training (because up until this point there have been no requirements), these are not isolated incidents.
There are so many others that could be discussed, such as the case of Raverro Stinnett in April 2018 who was left with permanent brain scarring after being assaulted in a bathroom by an Allied Universal security guard in Denver, while three other AU security guards watched. Stinnett, an artist who had come from a late-night event to catch a train home, was accused of no crime but was being harassed by guards because he had been waiting for more than two hours for his train, which was a rule implemented to keep unhoused out of the station.
Or the Dolton School District student in February 2020, only referred to in documents as A.A., who was lifted off the ground, body-slammed onto a table, and then choked by an Allied Universal security guard employed by the school. The student suffered severe bruising on his neck and back, as well as psychological and emotional trauma. He was accused of no crime, other than not showing his hall pass as he walked to the bathroom. According to attorneys for the security guard, "something about the tone or gait of the student seemed to upset the guard."
A.A was 6 years old at the time of the incident.
No criminal charges were brought in either instance.
Which seems to be a running theme. While Matthews and Hernandez's family eventually won civil suits, there have yet to be any criminal charges pursued in the previous deaths or grievous injuries caused by Allied Universal guards.
A MOTHER'S PRAYER, A DAY TO REMEMBER, A NEED FOR ACTION
"Stephen Gaines, best known as Zumbi of Zion-I, was my son. These last six months of living his loss daily have been the most painful experience of my life... I am dedicated to seeking justice for his killing. My son did NOT die from COVID."
Released publicly through the Zion-I-Crew's Instagram page, the words of Carolyn Gaines, Zumbi's mother, speak directly to the very obvious pain directly caused to a mother's heart. Outliving your child, a parent's worst nightmare, now her current and daily existence.
"I pray that as soon as the Alameda County District Attorney reviews the evidence that they will prosecute Alta Bates, Allied Universal and their employees for killing my beautiful son."
Her pleas, released on 2.2.22, have yet to be answered.
"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
An all too familiar chant is called while the vigil for Gaines came to an end on Feb 12th, 2022. A private gathering of loved ones, friends, fellow artists, and a close community came together in Oakland to mark the 6 month anniversary of Baba Zumbi's death.
The investigation is currently at a standstill. The police department is waiting on the autopsy. The autopsy is waiting on a toxicology report. The toxicology report is still on hold, with the office in Sacramento currently handling the testing claiming COVID has backlogged all reports far longer than normal.
As those entities are able to sit idly by while waiting for results, Gaines’ family, community, and fans are left with a hole in their collective heart and a multitude of unanswered questions. Questions that without answers, serve as open wounds unable to heal. They are most certainly not the first family that Allied Universal has put through this kind of loss. The parents of Mario Matthews and Angel Zapata Hernandez could certainly attest to that.
In their pursuit of justice, however, the Gaines family and the community attempting to uplift Zumbi’s name, are hoping they are one of the last.
The family asks that if the public has any further information about the ongoing investigation, it is directed to their attorneys Elizabeth Grossman and Lyn Agre, who are seeking justice on the family’s behalf. They can be reached at 510-548-5106, or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will continue to follow this investigation and will report as it unfolds.