Tough Enough

Union Station's security staff makes life difficult for "troublesome" employees

May 22, 2002 at 4:00 am
Iain Teall still aches from the beating he took last year.

Teall, 30, was working as a bartender at the Hard Rock Cafe when, he says, he was roughed up by public-safety officers just outside Union Station. He says he was repeatedly struck with metal batons and Maced by the security staff.

His injuries sent him to the hospital, where he was found to have contusions and a concussion. Worse yet, he says, the incident was a case of mistaken identity. "I found out later the officers had been ejecting a group from Hooters," says Teall, "and they thought I was one of them trying to get back in. It was a mistake that they will pay for in court."

Long before Nelly was turned out of Union Station for wearing a do-rag in violation of the dress code, complaints about the enforcement tactics of the mall security force started surfacing. But these complaints didn't come from a celebrity rapper -- instead, Union Station's own employees, its workers and managers, contend that the security force is more interested in targeting mall employees and throwing its weight around than in protecting mall patrons.

There's also the suggestion of a coverup -- the surveillance videotape of the Teall incident was mysteriously taped over, and a police report states that it was likely tampered with.

Union Station spokesman Tom Gorman defends the guards: "They're doing the job they're assigned, and that is to keep peace and harmony in Union Station. And it's a tough job. Six million people -- that's the number of visitors Union Station gets per year. You're bound to have some problems with that many people."

But Key West Café general manager Neill Costello, an eight-year veteran of Union Station, says the mall's security team oversteps its jurisdiction: "They're not really sure who they're working for. They don't realize that they're working for the tenants and the guests. Instead, they've created this atmosphere of intimidation, and they've systematically harassed employees over the years. I could understand if they had a legitimate problems with gangs and violence, but why are they going after the people who have to work here? It doesn't make any sense to me."

Teall, now a manager at Café Eau in the Chase Park Plaza, recalls the night of the incident. He was at Casa Gallardo between shifts, watching the Blues in a playoff game. He left to return to the Hard Rock but realized that he had forgotten his keys. "I went back to get them, and a security officer stationed at the south entrance grabbed me by the arm. Then another one came up and hit me behind the ear. Then the first guy pulled out the Mace and sprayed it right in my eyes. And then more officers came. Six or seven got me on the ground, cuffed me and beat me with batons. They ripped out my eyebrow ring and Maced me again.

"They took me to this room down a long hallway, and they led me there handcuffed, my shirt ripped, pants around my ankles and my shoes gone. I was in there for an hour -- they wouldn't even let me wash out the Mace." He was interrogated and threatened, he says, but finally the city cops arrived and let him go.

Union Station spokesman Gorman says public-safety officers were indeed ejecting a rowdy bunch from the mall but also alleges that Teall, drunk and truculent, "inserted himself into the situation" and fought with security officers. Five people had trouble holding him down, Gorman says. The police report from May 18, 2001, lists seven public-safety officers as suspects in the second-degree assault on Teall. According to Jeannette Graviss of the St. Louis circuit attorney's office, warrants on the suspects were applied for on July 25, 2001. The case was reviewed by an assistant circuit attorney, who determined that there was not enough evidence to proceed.

A surveillance camera was aimed at the area where the incident occurred. But the tapes, later seized as evidence, had, in the opinion of St. Louis Police Department lead production technician Bob Steckhan, been tampered with. The pertinent videotape, watched by Steckhan and two detectives, showed ten seconds of nighttime surveillance before "the video went directly to a daytime freeze-frame shot that was continuously recorded on the cassette tape," says the police report, written by Detective Sergeant Courtland Ramey.

In recent weeks, African-Americans have expressed wrath over the Union Station dress code, which bans the wearing of "commonly known gang-related items," including bandannas and do-rags of any color. Under the same policy, a person cannot enter the mall wearing a hat tilted or turned to the side or with a single sleeve or pant leg rolled up. At protest rallies held twice so far this month at Union Station, protesters marched through the complex vocalizing -- with the aid of bullhorns -- allegations of discrimination and racial profiling.

Union Station's policies allow its security to ban troublesome employees from mall property. Banishment is tantamount to job termination, because a banned employee who tries to go to work can be detained and arrested by the "real" police for trespassing. And even though Missouri public-health statues dictate that kitchen workers wear hair restraints, says Key West Café kitchen manager Keith Little, "they banished one of my cooks because he had a wave cap to keep his hair in place. K.J. can't come back until he talks to [head of security] Jim Scavatta. It was the third time that security had warned him," says Little, "but when you're at work, you're at work. I could see their point if it was a red or blue scarf, but a black wave cap to keep your hair in place ... I never knew black to be a gang color."

Although some employees have not been officially banned, once one gets on the rolls as a troublemaker, the result is the same. Example: Union Station spokesman Gorman says Teall quit his job at the Hard Rock Café of his own accord. But Teall scoffs at this, maintaining that the security officers' oppressive actions forced him to quit. "After that beating, I was totally shadowed," he says. "As soon as I got on the property, I'd be followed by security. Whenever I had to do anything in the mall, they'd be right there, following me."

Landry's Seafood House has had one casualty of the banishment policy. Andrew Bricker, 23, thought he had a career with the national chain. He had worked his way up the ladder from busboy to bar manager and was considered a model employee. Bricker says his problems began eighteen months ago, when he and fellow Landry's bartender Kirk Brown went to deliver some rum to Route 66 Brewery & Restaurant, also located in Union Station. Bricker parked his car in the loading zone, flashers on, while Brown went in with the booze.

A security guard arrived and asked him to move the car. Bricker says he explained that he was making a delivery, but the guard persisted and eventually called for backup. "Within a minute," says Bricker, "a dozen security officers come out. They surround my car, pull their nightsticks, their Mace. They start screaming at me and rock the car. A guy at the window, a big, big black guy, says, 'Get out of the car, white boy. I'm gonna make you my bitch!'"

The confrontation escalated until a public-safety supervisor came and calmed the situation. Bricker and Brown left. The next day, Bricker spoke with security head Scavatta -- who, Bricker says, informed him that he'd "fired a few people and demoted some others" over the incident. Scavatta declined to be interviewed for this article.

A week later, Bricker was involved in another incident in the same loading zone. Security threatened to place a parking boot on Bricker's car. Bricker argued, and the officer didn't persist. But the next day, Scavatta called Landry's general manager Chris Durso and told him Bricker had to write an apology or face banishment. "I debated it," says Bricker. "It is an abuse of power. They can't control you, they threaten to ban you, and you'll lose your job. Banning should be a last resort."

Bricker ended up complying with Scavatta's request for a written apology. "They left me alone for a long time after that," says Bricker. One night last month, however, another confrontation took place between Bricker and Brown and Union Station security -- this one involving mutual taunting and cursing and a lewd gesture by Bricker.

It stirred the coals, though, and the next night, when Bricker visited his girlfriend at Route 66, he says, six security officers grabbed his wrists and hauled him to the security office nearby. Fearing for his safety, three people called 911, and city police soon joined the party -- as referees. Security called Scavatta at home.

Bricker says Scavatta told him not to talk to the police who were there. Instead, he said, he and Bricker would meet with a mall patrolman the next day and iron things out. Bricker told Scavatta to buzz off -- he'd talk to whomever he wished. Scavatta took offense; he told Bricker that he had just earned his third strike and was now officially banned.

That was Bricker's last day at Landry's.

"I lost a key bartender over this, and it put us in a bind," says Landry's assistant general manager Doug Davis, flummoxed over the worsening situation. "We want them to enforce rules. But our stance is, catch one of our guys breaking a rule on their private time away from this place, it's a police matter. But not this 'banishment.' We can't do that. They haven't broken any rules here. In essence, management is asking us to say, 'We're firing you for something we heard you did someplace else.' It's all hearsay anyway. You get charged with a crime, you get your day in court. Now there's one person over there who's judge, jury and executioner of this policy. That can't be."

Davis refers to Jim Scavatta. Key West's Costello says the problems with public safety began about five years ago but have gotten noticeably worse in the last year-and-a-half, since Scavatta came on board. "They seem to have brought in a new crew, and these guys are really military and Gestapo-like in their tactics."

Costello, 40, who has been banned and arrested by public safety in the past, says the problem starts at the top: "It all has to do with upper management. The security guards themselves I have no real problems with, although they need better training. I mean, why create a hostile atmosphere? Maybe management should have more off-duty St. Louis police officers in here who are trained to deal with people, rather than these guys who are told by upper levels of security how to behave."

Meanwhile, Kirk Brown, Andrew Bricker's pal, has been banned, too. Unlike Bricker, Brown has chosen to lead the life of an outlaw, skulking around, trying to evade the authorities. "Kirk's still sneaking in," says Bricker, "but that's not gonna work. It's only a matter of time before he'll get caught. These people hide in the bushes, behind the Dumpsters. It's like a SWAT team or something. Sometimes he has to go on the roof to see where they're hiding so he can run out to his car."