Jury hung on whether security officer assaulted Latin King

by Jordan Green

A Guilford County jury found a private security officer not guilty of injury to personal property last week, but was deadlocked over whether the defendant assaulted a member of the Latin Kings street organization at Greensboro’s primary transportation hub in July 2008.

Judge Vance B. Long, who was visiting from Randolph County, initially declared the case a mistrial after hearing that the jury remained deadlocked in a 6-6 split after more than five hours of deliberation, but after visiting with the jury afterwards learned that they found security officer Byron Wayne Meadows not guilty of damaging Latin King Russell Kilfoil’s property. The defendant’s lawyer, Seth Cohen, said Long set aside the mistrial finding on that charge the following day.

Cohen said his client remains employed by Lankford Protective Services, which holds a contract with the city of Greensboro to provide security at several municipal buildings. Last year, the city banned Meadows from working at any city facility.

“He’s not coming back on my watch,” city Security Manager Michael J. Speedling said after the court outcome, “and that is [because of] the documentation issues and the use of force and everything else.”

During the one-day trial on Nov. 10, Cohen argued that his client took reasonable action to defend himself and transit patrons moving through the Depot for the final bus run on July 2, 2008 in his attempt to use a arm-bar maneuver to make an investigative detention of Kilfoil after perceiving that the young man had violated the facility’s no-smoking policy.

“He should be awarded,” Cohen said. “He should have been patted on the back. All he wants you to do is speak the truth. Is this a criminal? We want you to say, ‘No, no. Not guilty, not guilty.’” Cohen also pointed out to the jury that Kilfoil has a pending civil lawsuit against Meadows and Lankford Protective Services that quantifies damages at $60,000. Cohen noted that Kilfoil’s lawyer in the civil suit, Chris Brook of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, was seated in the audience throughout the trial.

Kilfoil was called to testify by the state, and during cross examination Cohen picked at an inconsistency between the young man’s description of the incident in a warrant taken out days after the incident and his testimony in court.

Kilfoil testified that Meadows struck him in the head and face before knocking him to the ground. Cohen asked Kilfoil to pinpoint the exact moment in which Meadows hit him on a blurry surveillance video and mocked his inability to do so. The video shows Meadows’ forearm in Kilfoil’s collar area before Kilfoil falls out of the frame.

The silent video shows Meadows striding briskly behind Kilfoil as two other men walk ahead towards a waiting bus. At one point, Kilfoil turns to face Meadows with his head craned forward and his hands at his side. Meadows and Kilfoil disagreed about whether Kilfoil’s fists were clenched.

Kilfoil also testified that once he was on the ground, Meadows stomped on his back. Cohen attempted to undermine the alleged victim’s credibility with the jury by pointing out that the warrant stated that Meadows put his foot on Kilfoil’s back. Cohen also challenged Kilfoil’s statement that once he was pinned to the ground Meadows yanked a string of gold and black beads from his neck. Meadows does not dispute that Kilfoil’s shirt was ripped and his beads broken during the incident.

Judge Long instructed the jury’that if they determinedthat Meadows had done any of four actions — placing his foot onKilfoil’s back, holding him down, grabbing him or punching him —without justification or excuse, they should return a guilty verdict.The divided jury appeared to be stuck on the allegation that Meadowshad hit Kilfoil before knocking him to the ground because on Nov. 12they asked to review the video again.

Arguingfor the state, Assistant District Attorney Cyrus Brown told the jury inhis closing argument: “I want your verdict to be justice, justice,justice. I want you to go back there and do justice. Not ‘just us.’‘Just us’ means the law only applies to a certain group of people.”

Duringcross-examination, Kilfoil admitted that two men with him at the timewere members of the Latin Kings. Asked by Cohen why he didn’t list themas witnesses in the warrant, Kilfoil replied that he didn’t know themthat well and didn’t plan on seeing them again. Meadows testified thatafter knocking Kilfoil to the ground, he placed his foot on thevictim’s back and yelled at the two men to get back on the bus as theyadvanced on him. The men later rode the bus out of the Depot whileKilfoil was detained in the security office.

“Whywould you need to put hands on him?” Brown asked at the conclusion ofhis closing argument. “He said, ‘Because he showed attitude. If I say,‘Why are you bothering me, you rent-a-cop?’ is that showing attitude?Absolutely. Does that justify you putting your foot on my back andripping my clothes and my beads? The question is not, ‘Is he a LatinKing?’ It’s, ‘Is there justification or excuse for what he did?’” KevinMcIntyre, who was employed as a security guard by Lankford ProtectiveServices and assigned to the Depot at the time of the incident,testified that when he entered the security office he found Kilfoilbleeding slightly from the face. Earlier, he had encountered the threemen sharing a cigarette under the bus slips. McIntyre informed them ofthe no-smoking policy and asked them to step to the curb, and hetestified that they complied. McIntyre described the violation of theban as “no biggie.”

Cohenattempted to cast doubt on McIntyre’s statement that he found Kilfoilbleeding from the head, asking the witness why that information was notincluded in an incident report.

McIntyre responded that he did not see it as being relevant to his involvement in the incident.

McIntyre also testified that when he asked what had happened, Meadows placed his finger to his lips and said, “Shhh.”

Brown asked the witness what that meant to him.

“To me, it meant be quiet and wait for further instructions,” McIntyre said.

Brown took his own shot at undermining the defense’s credibility.

Anothersecurity officer, Omar Mahoney, testified that he had been manning thevideo monitors and observed that the men were still smoking in the sliparea in violation of the policy. The prosecution did not probe him onwhether he recognized that, in fact, the men had complied withMcIntyre’s request. Mahoney testified that he told Meadows, hissupervisor, that the men were still smoking.

Meadowshad written in an undated incident report entered into evidence: “Whileon patrol of the GTA area I, Captain BW Meadows, was notified byOfficer K. McIntyre that there were three males smoking in the sliparea. He stated that he had informed them of the no smoking policy andhad pointed out the sign. Officer K. McIntyre stated they cut him offand showed attitudes toward him.”

Underdirect examination by Cohen, Meadows admitted that he made a mistake inidentifying McIntyre as the individual who had notified him of theincident. During cross-examination, Brown asked whether it wasimportant that his reports be accurate.

“As close as possible, yes,” Meadows responded.

Meadowstold the jury he did not charge Kilfoil with any crime, but placed himin investigative detention by handcuffing him and leading him into theoffice after knocking him to the ground.

“Ifelt the basis was there,” he said, explaining that private securityofficers sometimes detain riders and take them to the office, wheresecurity has computer access to the Greensboro Police Department’swarrant list. If a warrant has been issued for a rider, they will beplaced under arrest.

Onefact that was not raised by the prosecution and did not come out duringthe trial was that Meadows failed to write a report memorializing theincident until after the Greensboro Human Relations Department began aninvestigation based on Kilfoil’s complaint.

Meadows and his employer did not learn of the complaint until almost two months after the incident.

The prosecution did not question whether Meadows erred in not charging Kilfoil after placing him in handcuffs.

Speedling,the city’s security manager, said in an interview after the trial thatMeadows’ failure to charge Kilfoil with an offense after placing him inhandcuffs “violates Lankford’s training.”

“If you place the cuffs on somebody it should be for probable cause and they should be charged accordingly,” he said.

Thedefense objected to testimony about Kilfoil’s appeal to the GreensboroHuman Relations Department for help in the incident at the Depot, andthe jury did not hear testimony or review evidence of a report producedby the department last November.

AdministratorYamile Walker wrote in that report that “the video clearly showsMeadows’ right arm striking Kilfoil on the left side of his head, faceand neck.”

Walkerfound that Meadows violated the city of Greensboro’santi-discrimination ordinance for places of public accommodations inthe incident.

“Inorder to reach a conclusion in a situation such as this one as towhether the ordinance was violated, the question must be asked, ‘WouldMr. Meadows’ reaction to a citizen ‘smoking’ under the slip have beenthe same if the citizen would have been anyone but Mr. Kilfoil, a youngLatino male?’” Walker’s report states. “The analysis of thisinvestigation determines that there is reasonable cause to believe thatdiscrimination based on Mr. Kilfoil’s national origin (in conjunctionwith his age and gender) was the motivating factor for how Mr. Meadowsreacted towards Mr. Kilfoil.”

Lankford ProtectiveServices officer Byron Wayne Meadows (right) leaves the Guilford CountyCourthouse during a break from his trial last week for assault andinjury to personal property, accompanied by fellow security officerOmar Mahoney. Meadows was acquitted of injury to personal property, butthe jury deadlocked over the assault charge.

(photo by Jordan Green)