3 On Your Side Investigates: On Guard - WLBT.com - Jackson, MS

3 On Your Side Investigates: On Guard

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT

You see them at banks, businesses, and bars: armed security guards put in place to improve public safety. They might even look like police officers but they're not, because they're not trained like cops.

In fact, Mississippi law doesn't require armed guards to be trained at all.

"'Don't let him make it to his car.' I heard them say it twice," said Jackson resident Terrance Thomas. "After the second time, that's when I heard a shot go off."

Minutes later, Thomas found himself lying on the ground in Freelon's parking lot. The two people who shot him in November 2014 were armed security guards who worked for the popular Jackson nightclub.

Thomas said the disagreement began after he asked a security guard to move their vehicle because it was blocking his. The guard said he'd move it only if Thomas paid up, and each time Thomas refused, the price increased.

After the guard flashed his gun at Thomas, Thomas walked back to his car and heard two warning shots fired at him.

When Thomas got his gun and returned fire, guards shot him four times.

"They had a weapon pressed to the back of my head, and you hear them say, 'Let's go ahead and kill him right now,'" Thomas said.

They didn't, though. One guard saw that Thomas worked in law enforcement. That realization likely saved his life.

Thomas stands as one of at least four people shot in central Mississippi by armed guards in the last four years, according to WLBT archives. The other three victims died from their injuries.

Whether those incidents came from inadequate training or a lack of oversight may be up for debate, but to Thomas, it's all too clear.

"This guard had no training, had no law enforcement training," added Thomas.

That's not unusual, either.

In Mississippi, no basic training or firearms training is required for security guards to carry weapons. In fact, the Magnolia State lags behind many states when it comes to regulations that govern those hired guns.

All it takes is $132 to the Department of Public Safety, some paperwork to fill out, and a state and federal background check that must come back clean before that applicant can carry.

However, a 3 On Your Side investigation found no checks are made to see specifically whether the person is prohibited by law from carrying a gun. The state also doesn't require a mental health exam or review an applicant's mental health records.

Only two questions; ask the applicant whether they've had any mental health issues.

The state doesn't even look closely at former law enforcement officers who apply to see if they might have been fired for bad behavior.

And Robbie Pendleton, who owns Pendleton Security in Jackson, said security companies aren't regulated, either.

"If they put their own guard out there are no requirements from the state.  It's a cost item that they don't have to spend here," Pendleton said. "Small companies just starting out, they gotta make money, they're watching their dollars pretty close."

Pendleton said his company spends the extra money, going above and beyond to compensate for what the state doesn't do.

"We put them through training, through NRA-certified instructors and they go through a threat-level protocol of what they can do when they can draw and use deadly force. And it's certainly a last resort," Pendleton said.

Our investigation found it may not be the last resort for some guards in central Mississippi. Of those four incidents mentioned earlier, three involve situations where the guard shouldn't have fired.

In Thomas' case, he said police determined he acted in self-defense, so he was never charged.

His civil suit against the club is still moving forward, though.

"You can't just play tough guy because you have a weapon on you," said Thomas. "When you have people who want to be John Dillinger and pull their weapon like this is the Wild Wild West, no. This is not the Wild Wild West." 

We reached out to Freelon's owner for a response to these allegations that his guards are not properly trained, but have not received a response.

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