Here is the statement I e-mailed on April 21, 2009 to the U.S. Coast Guard regarding my encounter last fall with an Ambassador Bridge secuity guard:
Joel Thurtell – Public Comment to the USCG
April 21, 2009
Hala Elgaaly, P.E.
United States Coast Guard
Office of Bridge Administration
(CG-5411) 2100 Second Street, SW
Washington DC 20593
Re: Public Testimony – for the USCG NEPA process Statement about threat from Ambassador Bridge security guard
Dear Ms. Elgaaly:
I am a journalist. I have more than thirty years professional experience in radio and newspaper work. I retired in 2007 from the Detroit Free Press after twenty-three years.
I want to report a series of incidents that began on September 22, 2008 with an encounter with an Ambassador Bridge security guard. I believe this incident belongs in the record of the U.S. Coast Guard. This incident occurred at Riverside Park, a City of Detroit public park, part of which has been taken over by the Detroit International Bridge Company for construction of its new Ambassador Bridge.
I posted my account of this encounter on my blog soon after it happened. This story is critical to the proposal by the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) for the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project (ABEP) and your role in assuring the integrity of the NEPA process. I understand there were references to my story during the March 17th public hearing, which I was not able to attend. Therefore, I am submitting this statement.
While researching and writing books, I also write a blog called www.joelontheroad.com. Thus, as a journalist, on September 22, 2008, I visited the Riverside Park Extension in Southwest Detroit, which abuts the Ambassador Bridge. I was trying to check out a report from a friend that bridge owner Matty Moroun had locked the public boat launch at the city’s Riverside Park.
I was uncertain where the boat launch was, but finding the park extension a block from Fort Street, I parked my car in the public parking lot adjacent to the park softball field and began walking across the park in search of the boat launch. As I proceeded, I shot photos with my digital camera. This incident happened mid-afternoon. I took several photos of the bridge, and I noted a chain-link fence with signs that said:
VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED
Behind the fence, I saw piles of construction materials. As I proceeded along this fence, taking occasional photographs, a white pickup truck drove across the park lawn towards me. The pickup left deep tracks in the grass. I shot a photo of the driver and truck as it stopped beside me. The driver was a muscular man with shaved head, sunglasses, a goatee, tattoos on both arms and wearing a t-shirt. I could see a shotgun leaning against the back of the passenger seat beside him.
The man said, “You can’t take pictures of the bridge structure from here. Homeland Security. You can only take pictures back where you’re parked.”
I responded, “This is a public park. You can’t stop me from taking pictures in a city park.”
He said, “You can’t take pictures here. Go back to the parking area.”
I snapped his photo.
The man pointed to a decal on the side of his truck. It said, “L.S.S. SECURITY (800) 542-3821.
I snapped a photo of the decal. I asked him to identify himself.
“Doug,” he said.
“Your last name,” I said (an opportunity for him to show his official identification, like a license or badge).
He pointed to the side of the truck.
“You need to get out of here,” he told me.
“No,” I said.
“Okay, you can talk to the Border Patrol,” he said. He picked up a handheld radio and talked to someone, saying, “I’ve got a guy hassling me here with some cameras. I’ll hold him here till you come.”
The man put the radio down and said, “Wait here. The Border Patrol is coming. You can talk to them.”
I’ve been licensed as a ham radio operator for nearly fifty years. I know that the radio spectrum is allocated to various services, be they taxicabs, fire departments, police departments, forest service, FBI, yes, the U.S. Coast Guard, and they all operate on separate F.C.C.-assigned sections of radio bandwidth. The Border Patrol has its frequencies, L.S.S. has its frequencies. They do not communicate with each other.
I concluded that “Doug” was misleading me, and that he had not talked to anyone from the Border Patrol. If I waited, as he ordered me to do, I most likely would be confronted by L.S.S. backups with shaved heads, tattooed arms, t-shirts and shotguns.
I reviewed the facts, with urgency:
This strange man wearing no uniform (other than a t-shirt with L.S.S. Security embroidered on it) and refusing to identify himself except for “Doug”… was armed with a shotgun … appeared to be calling more shotgun-armed people to his aid… What would that mean for me?
Guns talk. They say, “What do you think I’m here for?” What did “Doug” intend to do? Clearly, he was trying to intimidate me into staying to meet not the Border Patrol, but most likely armed private guards from this L.S.S. Security company.
What was L.S.S.? I had no idea.1 But this shoddily clad armed man seemed to have it in for me. If his comment over that radio that I was “hassling” him was a sample of his ability to report objectively, I wouldn’t stand a chance whether the new arrivals were Border Patrol or more of his type. If anyone was being harassed, intimidated and threatened, it was me. That’s what shaved heads, t-shirts, tattoos, shotguns and refusals to identify are for.
“Doug” was scary enough. I pictured myself being “interrogated” by these irregular security guards and decided not to wait and find out what his compadres looked like.
“No,” I told him. “I think I’ll leave.”
“No! You’re staying here!” he countered menacingly.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “You’re a private security guard and you don’t have any authority over me. This is city property.”
As I started walking across the grass towards my car, “Doug” backed up his pickup and turned around, making a new set of tracks on the lawn. He parked his pickup directly behind my car. He was cornering me – physically and forcefully trying to obstruct my freedom.
When I got to my car, “Doug” said, “Stay right here. The Border patrol is on the way.”
“You have no authority,” I said. “You’re a private security dick blocking my car on public property.”
I unlocked my car, got in, turned on the engine, headed forward and then made a sharp right turn around “Doug” and his pickup. I headed for the freeway and home. Scared; then relieved.
Soon after I posted my story on my blog, Joel on the Road, I began hearing from folks – many from SOUTHWEST Detroit – who wanted me to know about their stories. I heard from people who, like me, had been harassed by armed guards from the bridge. I learned that bridge guards several times had ordered one of Detroit’s top recreation officials to leave the city’s public Riverside Park. I started doing more research. As the stories and information continued to come to me, I realized there was much more to this incident.
I also received a letter from Dan Stamper, dated September 26, 2008, which I placed on my blog. One of the quotes I found particularly significant:
“The security staff you encountered do indeed work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, (CBP), Border Patrol, FBI and the equivalent agencies in Canada. Had you respected his authority and stuck around long enough, you would have found that out…”2
Later I went to the Detroit Police Department to file a police report. A police officer at the station advised me to take my complaint to Matty Moroun. She refused to let me file a complaint or even merely log the incident.3 I left the police office wondering about the futility and frustration that others must also be struggling with.
1 I later found out. There is no company listing for L.S.S. Security; nor for LSS Security in the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth. There is no security guard license for either and there can’t be a license for a non-entity, unless it is for an individual. Instead, there is a company registered with the State called LSS Consulting Inc. It has two licenses: Professional Investigator Agency – Lic.#3701202772 and Security Guard Agency – Lic.#3801203480
2 Posted on my blog: http://joelontheroad.com/?p=1128
3 I was aware that the Detroit Police Department is under a federal consent decree, for among other things, insuring political influence did not interfere with police duties. And I was aware that the FBI is reportedly investigating the former Mayor, I learned that a licensed tugboat captain who was piloting his 16-foot boat in the Detroit River one day in September 2008 experienced a “security guard” incident as well. He described how, as he approached the city’s boat launch, security guards on the Ambassador Bridge reported him to the Border Patrol.
I contacted the US Department of Homeland Security. According to Ron Smith, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, no one in CBP has given the Ambassador Bridge authority to take over the public Riverside Park, eject people or ban photography beside the bridge. CBP’s concern is what’s ON the bridge, not what’s UNDER it, he told me.
About a week after my incident with “Doug”, on October 1, 2008 a group of residents rallied for a softball game at Riverside Park. It was a community celebration to voice their opposition to the illegal seizure of their public park by the Ambassador Bridge. The media came and television coverage showed a brief clip.
Dan Stamper, president of the Ambassador Bridge, came that day.
He offered to supply the softball players with soft-drinks after reading a blog response calling for a game.
So, at the softball game, Dan Stamper came over to speak with me, Curt Guyette of the MetroTimes and tugboat Captain Wade Streeter with his own experience of being threatened.4
Stamper spoke through a chain-link fence at the Riverside Park Extension, near the area they seized as a supposed “security buffer zone”. We all asked questions of the bridge president. When did the fence go up? Who put it up? Google satellite photos taken in the summer of 2007 show no fence. So what “homeland security threat” prompted the fence to be erected after that? Could it be related to the beginning of construction for the ABEP – that still does not have approvals to begin construction? If a buffer-zone was needed, wouldn’t construction materials provide a risky hiding place for possible explosive devices, for example?5
Dan Stamper responded to various questions, “For seven years, nobody gave a shit.” At one point Stamper deferred to the bridge security director, Jack Teatsorth. He claimed the City of Detroit closed the boat ramp in 2001 after 9/11 and declined to re-open it in spring 2002, citing lack of funds.
“We put that sign up,” Teatsorth said, referring to the WARNING due to Homeland Security sign, to absolve the city of liability in case some unauthorized person went in and later sued. As I questioned him further, he said: Kwame Kilpatrick, who was recently released from jail. On my blog I discussed the Detroit News’ October 20, 2008 article stating that no outsider had more contact with the former mayor than Matty, who gave at least $50,000 in political contributions to Kwame. The two reporters reviewed 1,886 pages of Kilpatrick’s daily schedules from 2003 to 2007. They met 11 times in 2006 and 2007. Perhaps, I mused, they discussed Riverside Park?
4 Curt Guyette is the News Editor of MetroTimes, which ran a story on October 1, 2008, which quoted the CBP response to their inquiry: “News Hits put in calls to a variety of local Homeland Security officials including those at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) regional office at Selfridge Air Force Base and its Detroit office, and also the U.S. Coast Guard’s office in Detroit. All expressed surprise at learning that said fence had been erected and access to the boat launch had been cut off. “To my knowledge, there’s no connection between the fence being put up at that park and the Department of Homeland Security,” says Ronald Smith, spokesman for the CBP’s Detroit office.” See more at the website:
5 Explosion risks have been an issue since 300,000 gallons of fuel have been stored underground near the Bridge ramp. Six tanks have been removed, and twelve additional ones approved for installation with the expanded Ammex plaza.
“We put the padlocks on the gates,” explaining that bridge workers need to get into the launch area to have access to a bridge tower. So, the explanation of “Homeland Security” appears to be unrelated to any “national interest” – according to what the Ambassador Bridge officials said that day. Interestingly, security did rear its head during our chat. “Doug’s” head to be exact! Though not partaking in the conversation, in the background the same looking L.S.S. Security figure appeared to be watching the events with a careful eye.
After the March 17th public hearing, I received an email saying that at least two security guards, wearing baseball caps with the decal “L.S.S. Security”, were prominently positioned at the front of the stage where USCG officials were standing as the hearing wrapped up. I was told their presence looked official. Could one of them have been “Doug”?
Just recently I discovered that there is no business listed with the State of Michigan called “L.S.S. Security” and that operating under the security guard license of LSS Consulting is in violation of license rules. I also just learned that it is a criminal issue for a person, including a security guard, to have a shotgun publicly displayed in his truck while on public property. (Michigan State Police said such situations should be reported to law enforcement and if a police department refuses to take a report, the county prosecutor should.)
Why would the U.S. Coast Guard allow the presence at the hearing of security guards from the bridge company?
Many of the Southwest Detroit residents and hearing attendees knew about my incident with “Doug.” The presence of L.S.S. caps seems intended to intimidate. If the Coast Guard mandate was “neutrality and independence,” why were security guards from an interested party allowed to attend?
Can you verify if the man whose photo is posted here was at the USCG public hearing? Who is he? Who authorized the presence “in uniform” of L.S.S Security? Were they paid to attend? – by the USCG? Did they have “walkie-talkies” that communicate to the US Border Patrol – or other “security” people? I look forward to your answers and welcome any questions you may have. Thank you.
For additional references, see my blog posts at:
http://joelontheroad.com/?p=991 http://joelontheroad.com/?p=1076 http://joelontheroad.com/?p=1716
See the (unofficial) Coast Guard Report blog: