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'A really scary feeling': Private security company accused of using force against UCLA protesters

Connor Sheets, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — When authorities launched the first of many flash-bang-style devices early on the morning of May 2, it shattered the relative calm of UCLA's pro-Palestinian encampment and drove a stream of protesters running toward makeshift barricades that blocked the exits.

Two students said they witnessed a student protester standing near Powell Library attempt to move a metal barrier to accommodate the people fleeing. Instead, he was met with force by members of Apex Security Group, according to the witnesses, who were interviewed together and requested anonymity in fear of retaliation by the university or law enforcement.

"Members of the security team started attacking him. I think it was around five to seven of the security guards," one of the students said. "Two or three of them were trying to hit him on the head, and the others were trying to restrain him."

The protester broke free from the private security guards and fled. Within minutes, a deep bruise materialized on the young man's face where one of the guards had punched him, the second student witness said. The student who was allegedly hit was not identified and could not be reached for comment.

"It was really unwarranted. He just, like, moved back a little bit and then they attacked," the second witness said. "It was a really scary feeling. I'd never seen someone get beat up like that in person before."

The incident was the first of at least two that witnesses said involved Apex Security Group guards acting aggressively at the University of California, Los Angeles in recent weeks. Witnesses who spoke with the Los Angeles Times accused the guards of assaulting and accosting demonstrators who posed no threat and leaving the scene at a key moment on May 1, as counterprotesters escalated violence that left at least 30 people injured.

 

Apex and its parent company, the Northridge-based security giant Contemporary Services Corporation, did not respond to requests for comment. Apex's website says it employs "off-duty and retired law enforcement officers who provide supplemental services for clients that require support above and beyond standard event security and crowd management services."

Hired guards are increasingly ubiquitous at college protests, with Apex and CSC contracted for security on campuses from Los Angeles to New York. The guards perform crowd control and many of the duties traditionally carried out by police officers, and can carry weapons if properly licensed. They can detain people, but typically as private citizens, not sworn law enforcement, which means they enjoy fewer of the legal protections afforded police. Entry-level private security guards — who in many cases receive just a few days of training — are often directed by those who hire them to use force only as a last resort.

It's unclear what instructions Apex had from UCLA.

Ryan King, a spokesman for the office of the University of California's president, Michael V. Drake, said in an email that Drake announced on May 7 "an independent investigation" into what led to the violence on April 30. The university did not respond directly to questions about its relationships with Apex and CSC or the incidents with the firms on campus.

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