Rodeo security firm responds

Phoenix claims drunkeness was a factor in incidents

— The company hired to provide security for the Omak Stampede says alleged heavy-handedness by its employees are off base.

Phoenix Protective Corp. took issue with several residents’ allegations that they were handcuffed, detained, escorted off the grounds or otherwise harassed by company security guards.

Company President Sheila Leslie alleged the complaints came from people who were drinking in the beer gardens.

“You did not speak with the 10,000 guests who attended the rodeo and carnival – those who were injured, had lost children, suffered from heat exhaustion or were in the path of escaped horses that we assisted to safety,” she said. “The complaints are from a minority who were under the influence of alcohol.”

In the three years Phoenix has provided security, “we have helped the rodeo nearly eliminate issues of gangs in the carnival area, theft and vandalism in the camping areas, and responded to numerous medical and safety issues,” she said. “In addition the rodeo is operating under new Washington State Liquor Control Board permits, and beer gardens operated by the Rotary face huge liability concerns with respect to over-service, drunk driving and the consequences.”

Starplex provided security before Phoenix was hired.

Stampede President George Dunckel acknowledged the company’s presence has helped cut down on problems on the grounds, but said he and other board members want answers about the allegations.

Frank Lay, owner of Omak Marine, 128 Columbia St., and Jerame Paul of Okanogan said they were handcuffed, interrogated and detained for more than an hour after they sought shelter from the severe thunderstorm after the Aug. 10 rodeo.

They and nearly 20 other people took shelter under an awning outside a locked arena gate, with the intent of waiting out the worst of the storm. They had been in the beer garden until Stampede Vice President Leon Hoover shut it down because of the storm.

Paul said he was wrestled to the ground, with his face in a mud puddle.

A woman also was handcuffed and another was pulled from a porta-potty, Lay said.

Lay and Paul said the guards accused them of assault and trespassing, but they eventually were released. No charges were filed.

Leslie alleged there were two people hiding in the porta-potty and not using it. Lay contends the woman was using it and still had her pants down when she was dragged from it.

Leslie said people need to consider the liability to the Stampede board and the risk to the public from individuals “who refuse to follow directives, are intoxicated and otherwise disruptive.”

She asked at what point individuals accept that service is being denied.

“They do not have a ‘right to be drunk’ or, in an evacuation, to refuse to leave,” she said.

“We have the authority to detain individuals for investigation. Due to the circumstances Saturday night and the impact of the storm city-wide, arrival times may have been slightly diminished but Omak PD has gone above and beyond to be responsive to the rodeo needs,” she said. “Although these individuals all could have been charged with crimes, both (Phoenix) and the (Stampede) board recognized the influence alcohol and the storm had made on their decisions and declined to press charges.”

Several Stampede board members said Aug. 26 that an Aug. 25 Chronicle story was the first they’d heard about the problems.

City Administrator and Rotarian Ralph Malone said there also were problems Friday in the beer garden that led to a misunderstanding about when Phoenix personnel expected the club to close up shop.

“Some reliable people have expressed dismay about Phoenix. They seemed to be way over the top in how they dealt with people,” he said.

Aside from the situations with Lay and Paul, and the Friday beer garden closure, former Stampede Queen Shauna Beeman said she was escorted off the grounds Sunday afternoon by an armed Phoenix contingent.

Stampede officials contend she wasn’t supposed to be in the timed-event area.

Beeman disputed that and said Phoenix’s response was extreme. She said she was forced to take her horses out through the Suicide Race paddock area and leave her 12-year-old daughter behind.

Leslie did not respond to Beeman’s situation.

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