Kevin Torres was celebrating Sunday night after his soccer team finally claimed their league championship title.
Surrounded by teammates and family, Torres spent hours at a bar in Highlandtown. The mood was jovial until a dispute over a missing cellphone prompted a security guard to intervene. Torres got involved after seeing the officer arguing with his stepdaughter, according to witnesses.
Moments later, Torres was dead.
The security guard told Baltimore Police he discharged his gun early Monday morning because Torres threw a brick at him. But three witnesses disputed that account in interviews with The Baltimore Sun.
“They killed my husband like an animal,” said Sor Torres, who helped organize a protest Tuesday night in Highlandtown that drew about 100 people. “Enough is enough.”
In Baltimore alone, three people have been shot by security guards in the past three weeks. A fourth was killed Nov. 3 in Prince George’s County, in an incident that also left the guard dead. The cases exemplify the potential for grave consequences when businesses employ armed security officers — civilian professionals tasked with protecting public safety but who often get less training and oversight than law enforcement.
While Maryland requires its roughly 12,500 private security guards to be licensed by the Maryland State Police, there are no statewide training requirements. The agency doesn’t track on-duty shootings by licensed guards. There’s no reporting requirement when a shooting takes place, so it’s possible State Police would never become aware of the incident. Local law enforcement still investigate whether a criminal act occurred, as with any other shooting.
The Highlandtown shooting remains under investigation, Baltimore Police said Thursday. They said detectives reviewed video footage of the incident. They declined to provide the video footage to The Sun for review, citing the ongoing investigation.
The security guard has not been arrested and officials declined to release his name. Police spokesman Detective Donny Moses said he believes the guard was working independently for the bar and was not an off-duty police officer.
As dusk fell Tuesday evening, protesters gathered outside ChrisT Bar in the 4000 block of East Lombard Street in Southeast Baltimore, where Torres was killed. They lit dozens of candles and added fresh flowers to a growing memorial display, then spilled into the street and started marching, escorted by Baltimore Police officers. Many carried homemade signs demanding “Justice for Kevin” and “Justicia para Kevin.” They chanted in Spanish and English.
Loved ones said they want criminal charges against the security guard.
“You get that power of a gun and you don’t know how to use it,” said Janellie Muñoz, 18, stepdaughter of Kevin Torres. “I saw my dad bleed out in front of my eyes. … He got killed because he was defending me, because the officer put his hands on me.
“We’re just asking for justice and a little bit of closure for my family.”
An arrest was made in one of the other two recent Baltimore security guard shootings.
In that case, security guard Kanisha Spence fatally shot a belligerent Royal Farms patron in the head after first threatening him with her handgun and advancing toward him, then pulling the trigger at close range, according to Baltimore Police. The incident unfolded at the Royal Farms on Washington Boulevard near Carroll Park on Oct. 30, about a week before Torres was killed. The victim in that case was later identified as Marquise Powell, 26.
The security agency that employs Spence didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Less than two weeks earlier, on Oct. 21, a security guard shot a man in the face after he allegedly tried to steal from a CVS in Harbor East. Baltimore Police said the man, who survived the shooting, also tried to stab the officer with a hypodermic needle. Officials have not identified the security guard or their employer.
The recent incidents in Baltimore — where police just reported their second officer shooting of the year — have thrust the city’s private security industry under a spotlight in a state that doesn’t require reviews of security guard shootings.
In Maryland, state police may note an incident in their licensing portal if they learn of a shooting, but no entity is required to alert officials or file a report, according to spokesman Ron Snyder.
That leaves shootings by security guards to be investigated by local police for criminality, without an automatic administrative review outside of the private company to assess circumstances or the guard’s fitness for the job.
The licensing division of the state police can suspend or revoke a security guard’s license, but Snyder called that step “rare.”
There’s a patchwork of oversight of security guards across the country despite “enormous” growth in the industry, said Anthony Gentile, associate director of John Jay College’s Center for Private Security and Safety. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists almost 1 million security guards nationwide.
Some states require security guards or their employers to report shootings to a state regulatory body that can review the circumstances and consider opening an investigation. Virginia requires that notification take place within 24 hours of a shooting, Gentile said. He called Virginia the “gold standard” in the United States.
States also differ on mandated training for applicants and background check requirements. Maryland officials say a security guard applicant may be denied certification if they have a felony conviction or a misdemeanor related to their fitness or qualification for security guard employment, among other circumstances. Its lack of statewide training standards leaves it up to private companies to set programming.
Gentile supports the creation of national standards to provide a “baseline” for training materials, such as conflict resolution and guidelines on using deadly force.
He said efforts to pass federal regulations have been thwarted by arguments in favor of maintaining state sovereignty.
“They feel they know what’s best for their province and they don’t need national oversight,” Gentile said of opponents. “The sooner we get to at least a minimum standard … we’ll feel better about it.”
Regardless of state requirements, good companies will train officers sufficiently because they are “quite aware that things can go sideways,” said Steve Amitay, executive director of the National Association of Security Companies, an industry group.
“It’s incredibly important for companies, and they realize this, that they’ve got to properly train and properly vet their security officers,” Amitay said. “Therefore, if something does happen, you can say, ‘Hey, listen … This wasn’t negligent.’”
Amitay also cautioned against comparing security guards to law enforcement when it comes to training and oversight. The traditional role of security is to observe and report, or to contact 911 if something happens, he said, not to arrest.
“Security companies, they’ll tell clients, ‘We’re not here to be police. We’re not here to act like cops. We’re here to act like security,’” Amitay said. “It’s a different type of public safety role.”
‘One of the best people’
Originally from Honduras, Torres came to the United States decades ago and settled in Baltimore. He ran a concrete and construction company along with his wife. Much of his spare time was spent on the soccer field.
Torres supported his players, helped workers who needed jobs and assisted family members immigrating from Honduras, loved ones said.
“The way to say it in a few words: he was one of the best people I have ever met in my life,” Eber Dominguez, 31, said in Spanish. “If he had something to eat and you did not, he would prefer that you eat, even if he would be hungry. He was always like this.”
Dominguez was among the protesters Tuesday night who spent over an hour marching through Highlandtown. They waved Honduran flags and displayed photos of Torres — smiling with his family, posing in his team uniform. Leaders of the group held a “Latino Lives Matter” banner.
In the heavily Latino neighborhood, some residents watched from their porches; others clapped and cheered through open windows and drivers honked in support.
Friends and relatives said they had safety concerns about ChrisT Bar, but Torres wanted to celebrate with his team.
Reached by phone Tuesday, an employee of ChrisT Bar declined to discuss the shooting at length and didn’t identify the security company they contract with. However, he confirmed the business typically has at least one guard on hand every night.
Jhony Alexander, who joined other protesters Tuesday night, said that about a month ago, the same security guard hit him in his chest and pepper sprayed him outside the bar. He said his chest still hurts.
When the confrontation involving Torres unfolded early Monday morning, witnesses said he also was reacting to being pepper sprayed when he grabbed a brick from the ground. But he never threw it, according to his wife and stepdaughter, who both said they witnessed the incident. They said the guard fired multiple shots.
“Just because you have a gun doesn’t mean you have to use it,” Muñoz said.