On April 27th, 2023, a young man was shot and killed by a security guard at a San Francisco Walgreens. His family has chosen to sue Walgreens, the security
company, and the guard for his wrongful death after the San Francisco District Attorney decided not to file criminal charges against the guard.
Banko Brown was unarmed when he was confronted by the guard, Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony. According to the guard’s testimony and security footage of the incident, Anthony believed Brown was attempting to shoplift. The confrontation escalated, and Anthony shot Brown out of alleged fear for his own life.
The District Attorney stated that the city would not file charges against Anthony because it could not confidently argue that Anthony was not acting in genuine fear for his life. It highlighted the standard of evidence for criminal cases, which requires prosecutors to demonstrate that the accused was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” According to the District Attorney, “We cannot bring forward charges when there is credible evidence of reasonable self-defense. Doing so would be unethical and create false hope for a successful prosecution.”
However, a lack of criminal charges has not prevented Brown’s family from taking their own legal action. Civil lawsuits are not bound to the same standard of evidence as criminal trials. Instead, civil claims need to demonstrate that the defendants are responsible for a loss, including wrongful death, according to the preponderance of the evidence.
The family argues that Walgreens, Anthony, and the security agency that sent Anthony to the location share responsibility for Brown’s death. They allege that Walgreens is responsible because it requested an armed guard on the premises. Meanwhile, they claim the guard’s firm is partially responsible for failing to train Anthony on how to de-escalate conflict, and Anthony himself because he chose to shoot Brown, exercising “unreasonable force.”
Unfortunately, stories like Brown’s are all too common, especially among disadvantaged populations. Even when an encounter with security is non-fatal, guards often exercise harmful force in situations when it is not necessary. If a security guard has harmed you, you may be able to hold them and their employer liable for your injuries.
California’s Laws on Security and “Reasonable Force”
Security guards aren’t police officers; they’re private citizens. That makes holding them accountable for causing harm much easier. However, security professionals have some rights related to their line of work that are not granted to the average person.
California law permits certain guards to carry weapons up to and including firearms during their duties. However, guards are not the same as law enforcement officers. During their duties, guards are permitted to use “reasonable force” to protect people and property. If someone is injured by a guard who uses reasonable force in the course of their job or to defend themselves out of genuine fear for their safety, the guard is not liable.
However, guards may not use excessive force. The line between “reasonable” and “excessive” force can be blurry. In general, force is considered excessive if it exceeds what a reasonable person would consider necessary in the situation. For example, grabbing someone and throwing them out of a building could be unreasonable if they were willingly leaving. Similarly, attacking someone who is complying with instructions and not acting aggressively would be excessive.
Additionally, in 2021, California legislators implemented a variety of new laws intended to prevent security guards from abusing their authority. Specifically, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 229 into law. This bill requires the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services to implement a use-of-force standard and training for security professionals by July 1st, 2023.
While this legislation is only just beginning to affect state standards, it could save innocent lives in the future. Just as importantly, it will give victims of security guard violence better grounds to file civil lawsuits for their injuries. If a guard violates the new use-of-force standard once implemented, it will be much simpler to demonstrate recklessness or negligence in resulting personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.
What to Do If You’re Hurt by Security
If a security guard has injured you, you are not alone. While there is no hard data on how many people are hurt by security professionals each year, the nature of the job means injuries are inevitable. This is only exacerbated by the fact that security firms attract employees interested in exercising force over others.
So, what should you do after a guard has injured you? You may be able to hold them accountable for using excessive force by doing the following:
- Document the event. If possible, record any altercations with security guards you may have. Video evidence is invaluable evidence for excessive force claims. However, be aware that guards can tell you to stop recording in California. If you cannot record, take pictures and write down as much of the event as you can remember afterward.
- Get medical care immediately. Medical treatment will ensure your injuries don’t get worse. It also begins a paper trail showing your injuries resulted from the assault.
- Find eyewitnesses. Witnesses can support your claim that you complied with the guard when they used excessive force.
- Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney. Personal injury claims against security professionals are complicated, so get help. A good attorney will guide you through filing your claim and arguing your case in court.
At Ellis Helm, APC, we are prepared to help you stand up to the guard who hurt you. Get in touch today to learn how we can represent you and help you seek compensation for your injuries.