"It's up to these individual security companies to hold these people accountable," Guglielmi said. "The BPD can't be everywhere."
In a lawsuit against a security company and the Police Department, attorneys for Daniel Earl Smith argued that the special police program "creates a whole class of persons who are granted identical police powers … but receive none of the initial and on-going training, or supervision through superior officers and investigatory disciplinary bodies that the city and the department have acknowledged are essential to ensure that police powers are exercised in a constitutional and lawful manner."
Smith's brush with special police came on March 10, 2006, when, according to his lawsuit — later dropped — an unmarked car came screeching to a halt and a man dressed like a police officer jumped out, running with one hand on his gun and telling Smith to stop.
Smith said he froze and obeyed the man, who got behind him, grabbed his arms, and forced him face-first to the pavement outside his Northeast Baltimore apartment complex.
"It was fast and hard — my face hit the ground quick," he recalled in an interview.
The car's driver then got out and started searching the area with a flashlight as the first man searched Smith's pockets, spreading his possessions out on the pavement, according to the complaint.
The men inside wore blue uniforms, with a shoulder patch that read "Baltimore Special Police." The suit says they carried guns and handcuffs, and told him he was being stopped because he "fit the description." An off-duty city cop, Corey Jennings, who at the time ran a security company according to state business records, showed up at the scene and apologized for their actions, and gave Smith his cellphone number.
The guards then let him go, only to track him down the next day at the liquor store where he worked — an attempt to intimidate him, Smith said. Instead, they arrested him.
Smith's version of the events in the liquor store is supported by surveillance footage from inside the liquor store. Over the course of a few hours, several security guards could be seen talking to Smith and surrounding him.
According to his lawsuit, one of the men identified himself as "Major Donald Ellison," and he was accompanied by a man named Ryzele George, then a commissioned special police officer, who is shown in the video wearing a black shirt labeled "POLICE" and a silver badge around his neck.
Smith said he was taken outside, forced into an unmarked Crown Victoria — the kind of car that real police would use — then placed in a police transport wagon and taken to Central Booking, where officials refused to accept the charges and let him go.
"It gives people a bad impression of the actual police," Smith, 33, a warehouse manager who now lives in Anne Arundel County, said in a recent interview. "I have a cousin going through the police academy, and the training is very extensive. These guys do not have that training."
Smith's suit was dropped in late 2008 after his attorneys dissolved their practice and Smith failed to follow through after electing to represent himself. But he maintains that what happened was wrong.
Two of the guards involved in Smith's arrest were later accused of blurring the boundary between police and security — George was charged with impersonating police after officers saw him working security outside a Northeast Baltimore club with a "POLICE" vest and a loaded handgun, and he had a special police card despite not being a licensed special police officer.
The charges were later dropped by prosecutors. "He was working as a security guard, and the police just decided to arrest him," his attorney, George Oswinkle, said. "He never held himself out to anyone as a police officer, or a special police officer." As for the vest, Oswinkle said George did nothing wrong: "You can buy them in stores. You don't need a special license to own body armor."
In May 2010, a competitor called police to complain that Ellison was wrongly identifying himself as a special police officer while working security at an IHOP restaurant in Baltimore County. He was carrying an unloaded 9 mm Glock handgun, which Ellison described to the arresting officers as a "training weapon."
Oswinkle, also Ellison's attorney, said at the time that his client hadn't done anything wrong. "The law is sometimes not clear," he said. Ellison was found guilty early last year and sentenced to a one-year suspended term.