Boston MA March 18 2017
Four homeless people who say they were assaulted by guards at North Station last year sued a former guard and the security company he worked for, Allied Universal, on Thursday, alleging the company’s negligence led to the violent episodes.
Security video from TD Garden allegedly showed an Allied Universal guard shoving a disabled homeless man, Michael Hathaway, into a door and smashing the man’s cane across his face. MBTA Transit Police arrested the security guard, Rene Norestant Jr., on assault charges, after inquiries from the Globe about the Dec. 22 incident.
Hathaway’s beating appeared to be part of a pattern of abuse against homeless people in the concourses of North Station, which sits under TD Garden, the home of the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins, a Globe review found.
Norestant could not be reached for comment Thursday night. An Allied Universal spokeswoman said the company does not comment on pending litigation.
Pat Jones, an attorney representing the four alleged victims, declined to comment on the case. The homeless people are seeking financial compensation, although their lawsuit does not specify how much.
“Being homeless is like being invisible,” Kourtney McLean said. “People bump into me, and it’s as if I’m not there.”
The suit alleges that in four separate instances in 2016, the alleged victims were standing on concourses or waiting areas in North Station and TD Garden when they were forcibly removed or pushed by an Allied Universal employee. Norestant was allegedly involved in several of the cases.
The suit also accuses Allied of negligence and reckless conduct “in failing to maintain the premises in a reasonable safe manner, failing to provide and maintain adequate security, failing to properly hire, train, supervise, manage, and control its employees,” among other allegations.
That negligence caused the alleged victims “severe and permanent injuries, incurred medical expenses, pain of body and mind and has prevented them from engaging in their usual activities,” the suit said.
The attorney for Hathaway and the three other alleged victims — Richard DePrimeo, Kourtney McLean, and Michael O’Leary — filed the lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court. They are asking for a jury trial.
Tricia McCorkle, spokeswoman for TD Garden, said Securitas USA has been selected as the arena’s new security provider. The company is slated to begin later this month.
In addition to Hathaway, the Globe found three other homeless people who filed police reports regarding security guards who allegedly assaulted them in North Station, and interviewed more than a half-dozen former security guards who say they were frequently told to remove homeless people.
Shortly after the Globe’s first report on the alleged assaults, transit officials told the private security guards they could no longer eject homeless people from North Station commuter rail platforms and waiting areas.
Not long afterward, TD Garden announced it would drop Allied Universal as its security provider. Amy Latimer, the president of TD Garden, said at the time that guards were not allowed to touch patrons, and that a review of security had been undertaken last year. The sports complex hired former Boston police commissioner Edward F. Davis to help during the three-month transition to a new company.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Transit Police also said it would expand patrol coverage of the station.
Allied, a large national company based in Pennsylvania, contracts with companies across Greater Boston, including The Boston Globe.
In January, Allied officials said they had not been aware of police reports alleging abuse by guards, other than the Dec. 22 incident involving Hathaway. Allied officials put Norestant on leave after that alleged beating and fired him after he was arrested.
Eight former Allied security guards told the Globe that management often told them to eject homeless people, leaving them with little choice but to be aggressive with a volatile population.
“It was typical practice, preying on the homeless,” said former guard Rodney Pittman, who worked for Allied from 2009 until he was fired in 2013.
Critics have pointed to Massachusetts’ lax regulations over the security industry as a problem that can lead to troubling incidents like the ones at North Station. In Massachusetts, private security guards do not have to be individually licensed, unlike hairdressers, fortune tellers, and kickboxing timekeepers, and laws do not regulate training.
Violence against homeless people is a chronic problem, said Jim Stewart, director for the past 30 years of the First Church Shelter in Cambridge, and a member of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee.
“If they’re lucky, people feel free to treat them as invisible,” he said. “But some people feel they are there to act out on when they are so inclined.”
During his 30 years working with the homeless, Stewart said, he has seen marked improvement in how police treat them.
But private security guards, he said, have not shown the same growth.
Another homeless advocate said the lawsuit showed that in Boston, even people who are disenfranchised have avenues to defend themselves.
“From the street, the men and women I work with have had many difficulties in their lives, they’re often in crisis and chaos,” said Jonathan Scott, president of Victory Programs, a nonprofit group that works to provide shelter for people dealing with homelessness, drug addiction, or serious illness. “But it doesn’t mean they don’t know their rights as citizens of this country.”