By Joseph Cranney, (photo credit: Sophia Germer)

August 19, 2023

Days after a private security guard shot a man in the back outside the New Orleans library’s main branch this month, library staff members and administrators gathered to air a host of complaints about the firm that has held the library security contract for the last several years.

In that meeting, and in interviews this week, stories flowed of gaffes and misconduct by guards with Metairie-based Pinnacle Security. Some said the shooting is only the most extreme episode in a history of problems with the firm.

Library staff said they’ve observed Pinnacle guards fall asleep on the job, abandon their posts, use hateful language and — in one instance — hit on a patron who appeared to be underage.

“While it is true that not every security guard who works for this company should be considered a liability, I would argue that the overall track record of this particular agency has shown itself to be unsatisfactory,” a main branch employee said during the Aug. 7 staff meeting.

Guards who appeared unprofessional or undertrained had escalated minor incidents, were dismissive of staff’s concerns or couldn’t even be trusted to safely handle their weapons, library staff told administrators.

One story involved a guard who dropped their gun, which slid across the floor, but didn’t discharge. An employee said they were “constantly complaining” about security, only to have their concerns fall on deaf ears

Pinnacle CEO Chad Perez said that most of the library staff’s concerns had not been brought to his attention. City officials have only approached him with “minor performance deficiencies,” Perez said, adding that those issues “are always addressed immediately.”

The Times-Picayune obtained audio from the meeting, which included the library’s executive director, Emily Painton, Deputy Director Tamyka Miles and the library’s security chief, Joshua McGlothlin.

The administrators told employees that it was the first they were hearing of many of the allegations, and that the contract is ultimately in the hands of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration.

“We can’t today say, ‘This is not our security company,’” Miles said. “It doesn’t work like that with the city.”

No one attended the meeting from Cantrell’s administration, which oversees a contract with Pinnacle that dates to 2019. The contract requires guards to be armed.

A city spokesperson said officials weren’t aware of any concerns with Pinnacle’s performance prior to the shooting.

Painton said library staff are expected to report any issues with Pinnacle to McGlothlin.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the concerns raised by library staff are serious enough to warrant further investigation.

“I don’t think that the city gets a pass on acting on this information,” he said.

Kia Simmons, 23, worked for Pinnacle for fewer than three months before her early Saturday evening altercation outside the library’s main branch with Henry Mark on Aug. 5. Simmons told police that Mark, 26, was harassing her partner and then threw several objects at Simmons, including a brick that struck her arm.

Simmons shot Mark seven times, and police said most of the shots struck him in the back. Bystander video, published by WWL-TV, captured Mark fleeing from Simmons as she fired.

Simmons was fired and is facing charges of attempted second-degree murder, battery, illegal use of weapons and two counts of criminal damage to property.

She was allowed to receive her private security license — through the troubled state agency that issues them — after just eight hours of firearm training and two arrests on battery charges in 2021.

Pinnacle also requires new employees to complete a one-day orientation, which covers the company’s use-of-force policies, Perez said.

City Council member Oliver Thomas, who chairs the criminal justice committee, said complaints about Pinnacle’s performance should come as no surprise, given the low bar the state sets for admitting private security officers.

“It’s obvious that there needs to be more training and a deeper look at what we require of security guards,” Thomas said.

Perez and Carl Saizan Jr., executive secretary of the state’s troubled Board of Private Security Examiners, said they would welcome the additional mandated hours.

After the shooting, Perez is requiring that armed employees complete refresher courses on use of force, he said. Pinnacle is also updating its background checks to capture employees’ arrest histories, and not just criminal convictions, Perez said.

Saizan said he’s working with lawmakers on a “complete statute rewrite” of the board’s standards, which haven’t been updated in decades. He is the third person to hold his post in the last three years, after his predecessors both left the job amid scandals.

During the staff meeting, library employees asked administrators to demand that Pinnacle’s employees receive additional training, though Perez said the city hasn’t made any such requests. City spokesperson John Lawson declined to say if officials will.