Portland OR Oct 17 2017 A homeless panhandler who claims a security guard beat him without provocation with a baton in front of the downtown Portland Safeway filed a $500,000 lawsuit against the security company Monday.
Westley Foster, 30, claims he was exercising his First Amendment right to stand on the public sidewalk and ask passers-by for money when a guard with Signal 88 Security, the company hired by Safeway to provide security, asked Foster to leave.
When Foster said he wouldn’t move, another security guard stepped out of the store, shoved Foster into the street and repeatedly struck him with a baton, according to his lawyer and his lawsuit filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
That security guard, Ibrahim Seraphin, 19, then handcuffed Foster and dragged him across the sidewalk, where Foster remained until an ambulance arrived. Medics took Foster to a local hospital to treat a gash on his leg and bruises on his torso on the evening of April 5, according to the suit.
A representative from Signal 88 Security declined comment. Seraphin also couldn’t be reached immediately for comment, and he isn’t listed as a defendant in the suit.
Safeway also isn’t listed as a defendant, and a grocery spokeswoman didn’t immediately return requests for information about any instructions the chain might have provided to the security company for dealing with panhandlers.
The sidewalk lining the downtown Safeway at 1010 S.W. Jefferson Street has been a panhandling hot spot for years.
Foster’s attorney, Lake Perriguey, said his client was targeted “because he was a person on the street that was asking for money that wasn’t with the Salvation Army and didn’t have a bell.”
People have a right to stand on the sidewalk, whether they’re “reciting a biblical verse or asking for a dollar,” Perriguey said.
Foster has struggled with a heroin addiction over the years: Court records show he’s been convicted four times for possessing the drug from 2009 to 2013 and been in and out of treatment. Perriguey said his client has made strides in his life by attending Portland Community College and earning a 3.7 GPA for the most recent grading period.
According to a police report, Foster told police who responded that he had asked about 10 people for money when the first security guard, Michael Templeton, walked out of the store to talk to him.
Although Foster told police he wasn’t acting aggressively, Templeton said Foster was speaking very closely to his face. That’s when Seraphin came over, Templeton said.
According to the police report, all three men said Seraphin pushed Foster first. Whether Foster responded with a punch is in dispute. According to Foster’s attorney, Foster said he didn’t punch the security guard, but that Foster might have thrown up his arms in defense.
Seraphin said the panhandler punched him. That’s when Seraphin took out his baton and used it, according to the police report.
At the time, Seraphin had been certified as a security guard in Oregon for about seven months, according to state records. Templeton had been certified for less than a month.
In 2015, Foster received a $1,500 payment from Safeway. A security guard wrongfully detained him when he accused him of stealing orange juice from 1100 N.E. Broadway St. in the Lloyd District, Perriguey said. Foster had a receipt for the juice, the lawyer said.
In another case involving an altercation with someone who was homeless, Signal 88’s insurance company agreed to pay $10,000 to a homeless man, Mark Richardson, said Richardson’s attorney, Michael O. Stevens.
On May 1, Richardson and security guard Maxwell Hardcastle ended up in a scuffle at the Lloyd District Safeway after Richardson picked up some food for purchase and the security guard told him to put it down. Stevens said his client was in the store and in the process of selecting an item to purchase and hadn’t shoplifted.