City Paper is not for tourists
On its website, Blueline Security Services calls itself “the leader in the Washington Metropolitan area for complete security solutions.” They offer investigations, surveillance, and the protection of current and off-duty police officers. Among the company’s clients are the embassies of Portugal and the Netherlands.
In 2013, Inc. Magazine profiled Blueline in an article about companies founded by teams. An all-smiles photo of the Blueline’s founders, Felipe Ordono, Tim Cordero, Troy Harding, and Shawn Scarlata, accompanied the piece. The four men met through their work in the Prince George’s County Police Department.
The piece quoted Scarlata:
“Being police officers, we have strong personalities,” Scarlata said. “When there is conflict, we just sit down and hash it out. Or yell it out. Whatever it takes.”
A little over a year later, the company was featured in a Washington Post article on the “booming” private security business. Catalyzed in part by terrorist attacks and mass shootings, the number of working security professionals had grown by 20 percent since 2004. (There are currently over 15,000 security officers and special police officers licensed in the District, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.)
The article stated that Blueline had 280 employees and Scarlata was fielding 100 job applications a week. The Washington Business Journal Book of Lists included the company on a list of security companies active in the D.C. area, ranked by “2014 metro-area revenue.” By 2016, Blueline would see $6.6 million in revenue and add 60 more employees to their payroll.
Blueline has faced legal action a couple of times in D.C. since its founding, for an allegedly false arrest, for alleged negligence and, most recently, for an assault and battery case in which a Blueline security officer allegedly bashed a man in the head with a baton after he exited a grocery store bathroom. According to the complaint filed at D.C. Superior Court, the man suffered abrasions and a skull contusion. That case has since been removed to United States District Court, where Blueline is being sued for $100,000.
While the allegations seem incongruous with the portrait of a functional security company painted by articles in the Post and Inc., those articles also marked a sharp departure from the sort of media attention some of Blueline’s founders got as police officers. Back in Prince George’s County, they were part of a police department that saw lawsuits, a Department of Justice probe, millions in settlement payouts to victims of misconduct, and a scolding from Amnesty International.
Blueline Security Services declined to comment for this article.
In 2001, the Post published an investigation on accusations against the Prince George’s County Police Department’s homicide unit. It scrutinized cases in which suspects seemingly confessed to murder after being subjected to brutal, protracted interrogations. The article’s subjects described being screamed at, threatened, thrown into walls, kept from sleeping, and denied access to legal counsel.
Troy Harding, one of Blueline Security’s founders, was in the interrogation room in at least three of these cases. According to the Post, Harding was hired by the Prince George’s County Police in 1990 in spite of having been charged with assault, battery, and theft. Harding was only found guilty of the alleged assault in Montgomery County, and a judge later struck the verdict. He was found not guilty of the theft and battery for which he was arrested in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.
Nearly a decade into Harding’s tenure, he was in the interrogation room with a teen suspect in a murder. The victim, Michael Harley, was found dead in a pile of leaves in Brandywine. He was riddled with stab wounds. A week-and-a-half later, 17-year-old Corey Beale gave an initial statement to police saying the last time he saw Harley was at a party, according to a complaint filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District of Maryland.
After about six hours at the police station, Beale told Harding that he saw Harley get into a fight on the last night he saw him. At around the nine hour mark, Beale said he was a part of the fight. After over 40 hours of on-and-off interrogation and under an hour of sleep, Beale confessed to murdering Harley. According to a protective order filed by Beale’s lawyers, detectives denied Beale his seizure medication and threatened to send him to the “gas chamber” throughout the interrogation.
Later, Beale told the Washington Post that the only true statement he gave over the course of his interrogation was the first one.
“I would have said anything to get out of that room,” Beale told the Post.
Even when Charles County detectives came forward with exculpatory evidence for Beale, Prince George’s County detectives didn’t want to backtrack. An attorney for Beale reported that one of the detectives told him, “He’s been arrested, and we don’t care if there are other suspects,” according to the Post.
The state dropped the charges after 14 months. Beale sued Prince George’s County for millions and settled in 2005.
Harding was also in the interrogation room with Dennis Green, a Bowie High School student who confessed to a shooting murder in 2000. According to the Post, Green later described being physically threatened and denied access to a lawyer. He was exonerated by witness statements, ballistics testing, and a continued investigation by the state’s attorney’s office where the charges were ultimately dropped.
In 1999, it was Keith Longtin’s turn to meet Harding. Longtin was 45 at the time and he worked as a welder.
Longtin’s wife had gone missing. In the interrogation room, he found out that she had been raped and murdered when Harding and another detective forced him to look at pictures of her mangled body. As Longtin sobbed, detectives accused him of faking his grief and shock.
“In court when I was suing Prince George’s County, [Harding] said he forgot about it,” Longtin tells City Paper. “Then he said ‘I just did it. It’s just part of my job.’ … Harding was one of the worst of the detectives that interviewed me.”
Longtin told the Post that his phone was taken away when he tried to call a lawyer, and that he was physically threatened when he tried to leave. All told, he spent nearly 40 hours in the interrogation room with less than an hour of sleep. According to a brief Longtin filed in the Court of Special Appeals in Maryland, he never actually gave a confession, although one detective said he “admitted his involvement.”
The brief also says that, even after a Maryland state crime laboratory definitively excluded Longtin as a match for the DNA the killer left in his wife’s body, Longtin remained in jail for five months. He was finally released after D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department arrested a serial rapist whose DNA matched the semen found in Longtin’s wife. Longtin sued and a jury found in his favor. In 2011 the county paid him over 7 million dollars. Harding was named as a defendant in both the Beale case and the Longtin case.
An opinion filed in the Court of Special Appeals in Maryland said that at least one of the detectives involved in Longtin’s interrogation considered sleep deprivation a useful “tool” and that “a training manual of the Prince George’s County Community Police Institute” instructed officers that they could “wait until after he admits” to read a suspect their rights.
Michael McQuillan, then commander of the Prince George’s County homicide unit, denied that his detectives used sleep deprivation or physical intimidation to elicit confessions. “People confess to crimes they don’t do,” McQuillan told the Post. “Why? I don’t know. You have to ask them.”
McQuillan was transferred off the unit in 2001, a few months after the Post story featuring Beale, Green, and Longtin was published. Now, McQuillan owns Public Safety Services LLC. According to its articles of organization, the company specializes in “public safety training, investigations and consulting services.”
McQuillan is also a “senior instructor” at the National Institute for Truth Verification, which “Instructs Law Enforcement Agencies and the Military throughout the United States of America in the field of Interviews and Interrogations to include Lie Detection/Truth Verification.” McQuillan’s bio on the NITV site says he “retired as Commander of (the) homicide division after earning a reputation as a preeminent homicide investigator.”
Tim Cordero, another of Blueline’s founders, worked with Harding on the homicide unit.
A drug raid featured in the book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces was coordinated in part by another Blueline founder.
According to a pretrial statement later filed in the circuit court of Prince George’s County, the impetus for the 2008 operation was a package containing 32 pounds of cannabis en route via FedEx to an address in Berwyn Heights. Police planned to enter with a warrant for a “knock and announce” raid (a raid in which officers identify themselves before entering) when the house’s residents brought the package inside.
According to an excerpt from Warrior Cop, Shawn Scarlata prepared the affidavit for the warrant. Most of the affidavit consisted of Scarlata’s qualifications and of information he believed he could extrapolate about the residents. After the raid, Scarlata would learn that the owner of the home was the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Cheye Calvo. Calvo’s address had been used by traffickers to transport drugs into Prince George’s County.
According to the pretrial statement later filed by Calvo, it came to light in the following months that “the Prince George’s County police department had been made aware of several incidents in which vacant or otherwise unoccupied homes were used as ‘drug drops,’ a scheme by which drug dealers would ship large quantities of drugs to vacant properties to be picked up before the occupants of the home discovered them.” In the coming months, the Post reported on several other innocent parties whose addresses were used by drug traffickers in this way.
After Calvo brought the package inside, he heard a scream and gunshots. The scream came from Calvo’s mother-in-law, who later said in a statement that she saw armed men in masks and dark clothing approaching through the backyard. According to Warrior Cop, Prince George’s County Police would use this scream as justification for voiding the “knock” portion of the “knock and announce” warrant’s requirements.
According to a deposition taken from Scarlata after the raid and Calvo’s pretrial statement, the police smashed through the front door with a battering ram and used an MP5 submachine gun and a Glock .40 to shoot Calvo’s dogs. The dogs were killed and the walls were spattered with blood. Calvo and his mother-in-law were detained with flex-cuffs, according to Calvo’s statement. (Though Scarlata helped secure the warrant and came to interview Calvo later, he was not on the team that raided Calvo’s home.)
Although the Prince George’s County Police were bound by a “memorandum of understanding” with Berwyn Heights to inform local cops when they were conducting police activity in the area, the Berwyn Heights police found out what was happening after an officer noticed the commotion from the street. According to Calvo’s pretrial statement, upon entering the house, he was told that Calvo was a “crazy” person who “thinks he is the mayor.”
According to an interview later conducted with Scarlata, available in court files, Calvo’s initial claim that he had been “set up” made him suspicious. “In my experience, that deflection is a… potential sign of someone that may be guilty or had involvement,” Scarlata said.
“What Prince George’s County did to us, it was entirely business as usual. It was Shawn Scarlata’s job,” Calvo tells City Paper. “Generally I have found in Prince George’s County that when there are incidents, you can connect them to broader patterns… Certainly during the era that Scarlata was there … some really troubling practices were just standard operating procedures.”
Blueline Security Services was founded in 2008, the same year as the Calvo raid.
Scarlata left Blueline in 2017 after nine years with the company. He is now the founder and owner of Mobile Video Guard and its parent company, SMART Security Pros, according to his LinkedIn page and organizing documents with D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). SMART offers armed security, off-duty police officers, and 350 “agents who are ready and available to deploy quickly to your site.”
The SMART site’s blog has a post on the pros and cons of private security. “The police are very limited by the Constitution when it comes to protecting private property,” the post says. “Private guards, however, may interact with anyone at any time as the representative of a private party rather than of the law. Private guards also still have the power to arrest without warrant on reasonable suspicion of a crime.”
Both Blueline Security Services and SMART Security Pros are registered in Maryland as well as D.C.
Security firms in Maryland need to obtain licenses from the Maryland State Police. Among Maryland’s requirements for the representatives of security firms are relevant experience and “good character and reputation.”
In response to a City Paper inquiry to Maryland State Police on whether Harding and Scarlata met their standards for good character and reputation, a spokesperson wrote: “Both individuals applied for an agency license according to state law. Required reviews were conducted, including a criminal background check. According to existing state laws or regulations there was nothing that prohibited either from obtaining the requested license.”
D.C. licenses individual security officers separately from “special police officers.” Special police officers with range certification can carry firearms and, while on the property they’re protecting, make arrests. Security officers don’t have arrest powers and can only carry a wooden baton. Blueline Security Services and SMART Security Pros both offer armed guards on their websites.
Licensing applications for security professionals are routed through DCRA, the mayor’s office, and MPD. DCRA does not independently investigate applicants. MPD has the final say in whether security professionals get their licenses in the District. They do not investigate the professional backgrounds of former police officers applying to become licensed security officers, special police officers, or representatives of security firms.
“We wouldn’t go to former employers to ask about personnel files,” says a spokesperson for MPD.
According to a D.C. government study guide for prospective security officers here, aside from general requirements (applicants must be over 18, not addicted to drugs, etc.), an applicant’s approval hinges primarily on a criminal background check. However, the guide also states that “(the) Mayor may make any other investigation of the applicant that the Mayor determines to be relevant.”
According to MPD, neither Scarlata nor Harding’s name is listed as an applicant on Blueline Security Service’s business license.
Positive reviews on Blueline’s website indicate happy clients. A reviewer from CNN said that hirees from Blueline “represented the security profession very well.” A reviewer from UPS said “their employees and management team perform their jobs and responsibilities with professionalism and with the utmost in customer care.” An archived page showing Blueline’s clients in 2015 reveals that they’ve done work for apartment complexes, retail stores and car dealerships.
Keith Longtin, who spent a significant chunk of his 40 hours in the interrogation room with Harding, doesn’t begrudge the company its success. “They do have experience in law enforcement,” he says. “Maybe they are trying to do something right. I can’t really judge that. We all make mistakes. But they have to remember they’re not above the law.”