Miami-Dade County via their Miami-Dade Transit Department puts out government contracts to improve our public transportation.  I work for a construction company that was invited to bid on one of these projects and this is my story. On September 28, 2009, along with a business partner, I visited five Metro-Rail Stations to photograph potential job sites.  These public sites are “guarded” by the private security company Wackenhut (whose contract has not been renewed). The treatment I received from these taxpayer funded  goons was so shocking that I had to share my experience with you.

At the first station I had no problem doing my work, I took my photographs and moved on. As I walked up to the second station I was greeted by two power-tripping guards that quickly welcomed me into the reality of the horrors of governmental and private company unions and their inane bureaucracies. To be clear, at all times I had in my possession the plans and contract book from Miami-Dade County stating the job description, locations, and purpose. I also identified myself and my intentions at every stop. It was at this stop where the debate and discussion on one’s constitutional right to photograph in public blossomed.  I spent about one hour trying to get into the station to photograph the area, which I was not allowed to do.  Out of constitutional principal, I decided to challenge their claim that I needed permission and could not photograph the facilities.  As I waited in front of these Wackenhut guards, I called Miami-Dade Transit and was on the phone being transferred from department to department until I was finally transferred to Eric Muntan, Chief of the Office of Safety and Security at Miami-Dade Transit.  To be fair, he was very helpful and solved the issue at that particular station.

I spoke to Mr. Muntan for several minutes explaining the situation and heard his take on the matter.  I was upset and quickly stated my constitutional right to photograph in a public place, which I had repeated to the guards, to which they robotically replied that  I had no right to film in a “private place.”  I did not know that Miami-Dade Public Transportation Stations were PRIVATE!

Mr. Muntan was very respectful on the phone and contacted the necessary parties to inform the guards in front of me to let me in.  Unfortunately, his order to the other stations never went through.

At subsequent stations I already knew what to expect.  Once again, I approached the station and introduced myself and explained myself. This guard appeared to be calm and wise, at least I thought based on his calm, non-emotional, respectful tone of voice.  All that changed after he began talking about his “interpretations” on the law.

At this point, I was just so amazed and shocked that I wanted to hear more on his rationale.  This guard had some of the best quotes of the day.  Some of them are: “Miami-Dade Transit is not Public,” “The Constitution does not apply on Miami-Dade Transit grounds,” “The County Ordinances supersede the Constitution,” and the best justification for those lovers of the expansion of the police state…”9/11,” yes he said, “Now, after 9/11 your constitutional rights are different.” At this point, I was in shock that a Wackenhut Security Guard was stating this was the policy of the county and Wackenhut.  He spoke with so much confidence and belief in the absurdities he was uttering that I said to myself, “This country is doomed.” This was a nice older man repeating unconstitutional, unfounded, non-statutory propaganda and made up law…Welcome to America.

The last stop:  I am Ricky Rodriguez and I am going to take pictures now.  Period. After having put my business partner through torture as we rode around the MetroRail I told him, “do not worry, I will just photograph from the public entrance with my zoom…I can’t take any more stupidity.” So thus, I went into the final station. I went directly up to the guards and started talking to them.  I told them who I was, what I was doing, showed them my county contract bid book, and told them I was going to photograph from the public area.  I did not wait for an answer at this point.  I was fast and aggressive but calm and respectful in my tone.  My presence was fast and did not seem to interrupt their group discussion.  I did not give them a chance to offend our constitutional liberties with their comments.  I quickly thanked them and waived goodbye.

The unfortunate experience I had with Wackenhut underpins the bloated, inefficient, and disgraceful state of our transit system. The County should be aware that its mismanagement and abandonment of the transit system could have legal consequences, especially when their hired representatives violate the Constitution of the United States. As Benjamin Franklyn said, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” I for one will not be returning to the MetroRail.

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13 Responses to Wacken-“Nuts”, Reflections on the First Amendment

  1. pod says:

    Private companies have no business guarding public assets. Nor do they have any business openly carrying weapons. They are private citizens. If they can carry openly, why can’t I?

    I think Miami-Dade County needs to set aside real cops (and not these Academy dropouts) for transit patrol duties, like any other transit system in the US. The Wackenhut guys are no more trained than your average citizen in firearms handling. They have to qualify maybe once a year, unlike a real cop.

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  2. Ulysses says:

    Too bad the transit thug officers weren’t available for real action when my friend was jumped, beaten and robbed on a train and it took ten minutes for the station attendant to let him know an officer was on the way to make an ineffectual report.

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  3. Juan Navarro says:

    I think, Rick, the only sin here is you being even asking them anything. it seems that when any of these rent-a-cop types get asked permission, that when it goes to their heads.

    By the other, side, and I’m just playing devil’s advocate, it could be their bosses faults for not addressing key issues like what to do if someone is photographing the building, what right are whose, and where, and just general training in dealing with the populace who rides.

    Plus to even get a political opinion that matters out of some of these guys? I mean have you seen how some cro-magnon some of them are? Not saying all, their are some really cool guards in certain stations, but most of the times there guys were too stupid and undisciplined to become cops, so…..

    I’ve had my own personal beefs with Wackenhut since 1992, when I was jumped on the train by 7 guys, through 4 stops, for 15 minute. The train actually stopped let passengers off, and went, all the while friends and school mates screamed for them to stop the fight.
    It only happened because the guards on duty, were scared to do anything. There you go, lot of tough talk but in the end they can’t do shit.

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  4. Juan Navarro says:

    Hmmm, my last comment begs me to ask what the laws and rights for a concealed weapon in public transportation are…

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  5. Ricky Rodriguez-Vacas says:

    We all live in troubling times… I was in total shock every single time I heard the wacken”nut” “interpretation” of the law.

    I have been reflecting recently about our Metropolis and have come to the conclusion that we should not be consumed by our political differences. We cannot blame the Bush administration or the Obama administration for our troubles.

    There are only two fronts. Those who love freedom and liberty and those who love tyranny and authoritarian rule.

    Ultimately, the state of our community in Miami depends on us. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for what we have. We must not give up the fight.

    I end with a quote by Benjamin Franklin,”Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

    p.s. We did not win the bid for those who were wondering.

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  6. pod says:

    Juan -

    Scared? Wait, they carry guns, right?

    What’s the point of having them if they can’t use them? I’m not suggesting they shoot the people who were beating you up, but if they drew them, that would at least have made the perpetrators think twice.

    Again, more of a reason why we need real cops patrolling the Metro system. Buses, movers, and the train. A real cop would have had no issue subduing the suspects and getting everything sorted out. Heck, nowadays most are TASER-equipped and that option would have solved the problem in moments.

    If the Metro every finally gets around to expansion, a real police force will be necessary, and not a bunch of Academy dropouts carrying Third World revolvers.

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  7. Juan Navarro says:

    Pod,
    that’s the sad thing, they can’t even pull the gun out! They’re not allowed!

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  8. pod says:

    Wow, that’s “reassuring”. The next thug that reads your blog post will be thrilled to know that :). Wonder if they’re even loaded?

    If they want private security to save money, just hire one of the local outfits where the guy just has a radio to call the mothership and maybe a can of pepper spray. Amounts to the same thing if they can’t pull their firearm in a situation.

    Either that or get real cops.

    Guess we have to take care of ourselves on transit in the interim.

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  9. Laugh@u says:

    I believe what the so called “contractor” is so upset about is the fact that he lost the bid. I am sure that was also because of the guards right? Grow up and quit whining. If they have rules like Muntan told you just learn to abide by them. If not you have no business even placing a bid.

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  10. Tony Garcia says:

    actually he wrote this the day it happened. he didn’t know if he had lost the bid or not.

    obviously you have never read the bill of rights! there is nothing that Muntan could have told him that could go against the fact that he has every right to photograph whatever he wants in the metrorail. douche.

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  11. Juan Sarmiento says:

    Just wondering…
    It’s public, but you have to pay to use it or to be allowed inside.
    It does have rules like no smoking or eating. ( which may go against your constitutional right to eat).
    The Wackhen “nuts” are all ex police officers with at least three years experience.
    Many are retired cops, some from Miami.
    Who is the nut?

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  12. g c says:

    Just like any group of people you do have some bad apples ,and even dum ones but dont judge one as all. Most were great guards some are so retarted,and if you think they are dum just look at our fine people running the 305. No wonder there are stupid people in Miami. Only city in the country where people can be born and 20 years later cant speak english!!!VIVA MIAMI!!!!!

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  13. Harpal S. Kapoor, Director, Miami-Dade Transit says:

    Mr. Rodriguez-Vacas,

    Thank you for taking the time to explain your frustration with Miami-Dade Transit’s (MDT) contracted security officers, as described in your published blog in the Transit Miami website.

    Your online article details how the Metrorail station security officers, employed by MDT’s contracted security firm, Wackenhut, restricted your access to the stations as you attempted to photograph areas of the stations for an upcoming invitation to bid.

    First, I would like to offer you my sincere apologies for this unfortunate incident and for any embarrassment you or your business associate may have experienced during your visit to the Metrorail stations.

    It is important to note at this time, that Miami-Dade County Code 30(B) requires all photographers taking pictures of the rail stations for commercial purposes to first obtain an MDT access permit. There are no federal, state, or local laws which prohibit or restrict personal photography at the rail stations.

    The Metrorail station security officers interpreted your statement that you were there to take photographs of the stations to ultimately secure a county contract, as being for commercial purposes. As previously mentioned, if this was the case, then County Code 30(B) required that you first obtain, and have in your possession, an MDT access permit, which is basically written permission by MDT to photograph at the stations for commercial purposes. Regrettably, the security officers you encountered failed to provide you with the proper resources to obtain this MDT access permit.

    You are certainly correct in stating that the MDT rail stations are public property, and not private as one of the officers incorrectly stated. However, although public, these stations, as well as the activities taking place in them, are in fact covered by legislation that provides governing rules for transit security and operations. Metrorail security officers’ assigned duties are to enforce such rules.

    Please rest assured that MDT would never purposely attempt to censor your rights to personal photography at our rail stations. However, the officers, upon learning from you that the reason for your photographs was commercial, correctly advised you correctly that a permit was required first.

    Should you need access to the rail stations for commercial purposes again, please contact Sylvia Person, at 786-469-5388. She will be more than happy to assist you in obtaining an MDT access permit.

    Additionally, as a result of your blog, MDT’s Office of Safety & Security Chief, Eric Muntan, has reminded security officers of the procedures to properly advise photographers taking photos for commercial purposes at the rail stations how to obtain the required MDT access permit.

    Once again, I apologize for your unfortunate experience.

    Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address your transit comments.

    Sincerely,
    Harpal S. Kapoor
    Director

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