OMAK OMAK – Stampede officials say they’re investigating reports that the event’s hired security force was overly heavy-handed with rodeo fans.
During their Aug. 26 meeting, board members said they want to hear about problems people encountered.
Several board members said they felt left in the dark about the situation and learned of it by reading a story in the Sunday edition of The Chronicle or from people in the community.
“We need to know this, as a board,” Director Connie Thomas said.
Stampede Vice President Leon Hoover said once the beer garden was closed during Saturday night’s storm, Phoenix personnel tried to push people quickly through vendor row since the storm also took vendors by surprise. They were trying to secure their merchandise and stalls.
“I applaud that you’re investigating,” Omak City Administrator Ralph Malone told the board. “There were some issues.”
He said Phoenix “turned this around three years ago” by providing better security than the previous company, “but they seemed to be more aggressive this year.”
There were some misunderstandings the previous night in the beer garden, which is operated by Okanogan-Omak Rotary Club for Stampede, Malone said.
Phoenix personnel apparently told Rotarians a bit after 10 p.m. that the security team was leaving at 11 p.m. and that Rotary could do its “last call” any time before then, he said. Some interpreted that to mean they had to close up right away.
In an interview late last week, Malone said “some reliable people have expressed dismay about Phoenix. They seemed to be way over the top in how they dealt with people.”
Phoenix, which has provided security during the rodeo for the past three years, has helped cut down on reports of problems on the grounds during the rodeo, Stampede President George Dunckel said.
The company’s employees are authorized to carry Tasers and guns, and use handcuffs.
Frank Lay, owner of Omak Marine, 128 Columbia St., said last week that he and Jerame Paul, Okanogan, were handcuffed and detained for more than an hour after they sought shelter from a downpour during a thunderstorm after the Saturday night Stampede performance Aug. 10.
On Sunday afternoon, former Stampede queen Shauna Beeman was escorted from the arena by around 10 armed security guards. She said they told her Stampede officials didn’t want her on the grounds.
Lay, 54, and Paul, 27, said they were in the arena beer garden after the rodeo when the storm hit.
Because of all the rain and lightning, Hoover said he made the call to shut down the beer garden.
Lay said nearly 20 other people took shelter under an awning outside a locked arena gate, with the intent of waiting out the worst of the storm.
As they huddled under the awning, three or four Phoenix Protective Corp. security workers approached them and told them to “get the hell out of there,” Lay said.
He said he replied with similar language and they said to “get the old guy with the cap.”
Paul came to his aid, but said he was wrestled to the ground, face down in the mud. At the urging of Lay’s wife, they finally let Paul up.
Another woman was pulled from a porta-potty, Lay said.
Lay and Paul were handcuffed and taken to Phoenix’s security tent, where they were held and interrogated for an hour to an hour and a half, they said. Another woman also was handcuffed after trying to convince the guards to let them go, Lay said.
They said the guards accused them of assault and trespassing. No charges were filed.
Lay and Paul eventually were released. A short while later, the Omak Police Department showed up.
Sgt. Jeff Koplin said officers didn’t witness the situation, but did take statements afterward.
Lay’s wife, Sandy, talked to Dunckel and others the next day and tried to find the Phoenix guards who were involved. She talked to another guard, who Frank Lay said was rude to her.
Dunckel said Stampede representatives are trying to schedule a meeting with Phoenix to discuss the complaints. He said he wasn’t on the grounds when Lay and the others were detained, nor has he talked to them.
“We need some answers, just like anyone else,” he said in an interview.
Phoenix personnel did not reply to a Chronicle request for comment.
It’s unclear exactly what powers private security guards have. State law addresses licensing, but has little to say about powers of detention and arrest, or how they can be armed.
Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers, who was awakened in the middle of the night by a woman who witnessed Lay and Paul’s detention, said security guards’ authority depends on their training.
“Some security are just that, security, and if something happens they call the police. Some security can be armed if they receive the training,” he said.
Malone said he understands Phoenix can detain but not arrest, and that Stampede gives the company direction.
Although the city owns the park and Stampede Arena, it has not gotten involved with Stampede’s choice of security personnel.
“I think there is general authority as an agent of the property owner/manager to trespass a person using reasonable force, (such as) escort from the premises, or subject to a search as a condition of being on the premises, and/or to detain for investigation of a theft,” county Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Clay Hill said.
“Beyond that, detention for any length of time would have to be for under common law authority to make a citizens arrest. This requires both a crime occurring in (the) guard’s presence and a crime that is of a nature that it could be described as a breach of the peace.”
For example, he said security guards can break up a fight and detain people until law enforcement arrives.
“Detaining indefinitely or where there is no breach of the peace occurring is not a viable option,” he said.
In another incident, Beeman, a volunteer and former Stampede board member, said she was escorted from the grounds toward the end of the Sunday rodeo by armed Phoenix personnel, who claimed she’d been issued a “no-trespassing” letter requiring her to stay off the grounds.
She said she had to take her horses through the Suicide Race Owners and Jockeys Association paddock, where she wasn’t supposed to be, and leave behind her 12-year-old daughter, Riata Marchant.
Beeman said she’d been in the timed event area because she provided horses for visiting royalty and helped with the Parade of Flags. Her daughter was a rider in the parade.
Beeman said she had not received a no-trespassing letter, but blames several board members for having her removed in an apparent holdover from disagreements last year, in which she and her mother, Karmen, were booted off the board and her sister, Jackie Richter, quit.
“This type of force was really not called for,” she wrote in a letter to the Stampede board.
Stampede Director Jeff Demmitt, who works with the royalty program, said credentials to bring the horse onto the grounds were issued to another person, but Beeman showed up with them.
In the future, “we will have a list of who’s supposed to be there, with no transfer of passes,” he said.
“There are certain areas people can be in. If you don’t have authority, badges, proper credentials, you can’t be there,” Hoover said. “That goes for anybody, even directors.”
Lay, Paul and Beeman apparently weren’t the only ones to have run-ins with Phoenix personnel. Lay said he heard another man, who has been a Stampede volunteer in the past, was handcuffed and made to sign a paper saying he wouldn’t come on the grounds again during the rodeo or during next year’s event.
Malone said he was told that people who weren’t bothering anyone were accused by Phoenix of being intoxicated.