A Palo Alto Track Watch guard who was arrested for burglarizing three residences and robbing a disabled woman is expected to be sentenced for at least 13 years and eight months in prison on March 17, according to Santa Clara County Superior Court records.
James Broughton, 21, of Patterson, California, pleaded no contest on Jan. 29 to two counts of residential burglary and one count of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and petty theft. A judge could sentence him to up to 21 years and eight months in prison, but the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office agreed to a plea deal, according to court documents.
Broughton faced three first-degree burglary charges for entering Palo Alto homes on Oct. 21, 25 and 26. He had a prior conviction for robbery with a handgun and receiving stolen property, for which he served a prison term, according to court documents.
His plea deal and sentencing combined the burglary charges with the strong-arm robbery case, which took place on Oct. 14 as a 51-year-old woman was leaving the bus depot at University Circle. Broughton came up behind the woman and grabbed her purse. The victim struggled to hold on to the purse, but Broughton ripped it from the strap. The force caused the woman to fall to the ground, according to a police report.
The woman told police that she was confused and did not report the attack for several hours. Police later learned that she had an unspecified mental disorder and the mentality of a child. Broughton, who never spoke to the woman, presumably was not aware of her disability. But he used her debit card 29 times, racking up $1,700 at stores in seven cities from Belmont to Milpitas, including in Palo Alto, according to police.
Broughton was spotted on neighborhood surveillance footage and interacted with neighbors around the time of the burglaries. In addition, video from his cellphone taken around the time of at least one of the burglaries showed that he was wearing his security uniform and was standing at the intersection of Churchill and Alma streets. In some of the video, he recorded himself displaying a gold wrist chain, red backpack and black and white handbag and gold coins and jewelry and he was in possession of floral-decorated high heels, which belonged to the victims.
Neighbors told investigators that Broughton had been going to homes and knocking on doors. He told police that he had been working at the Churchill rail crossing and had knocked on the doors because he needed to go to the bathroom.
Police later discovered video at a Toys R Us showing Broughton and his girlfriend shopping. He used the robbery victim's debit card to purchase $200 in merchandise, according to police. Items from the burglaries were later found in the girlfriend's car. She told police that she did not know the items were stolen. A case against her was dismissed on Feb. 25, according to court documents.
Broughton's case is one of four involving criminal and suspected inappropriate behavior on the part of Track Watch guards in the past four months. Two other men were arrested while off duty. Kenneth White had a bench warrant for a petty theft and Brett Scott was arrested for possession of methamphetamine for sale. The three men worked for Val Security Inc., according to police, but company owner Theresa Hasan said that they were in training and were not technically "employees." Broughton had only been on the job for three days, she said.
Training is comprised of an initial eight-hour verbal and video course in Powers to Arrest and Weapons of Mass Destruction/Terrorism Awareness, according to the state Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) Security Guard Guide. Prospective guards must also pass a state and federal background check before receiving their registration. After registration, the guard must complete 32 hours of additional training in security guard skills.
But security guards may not function in any capacity for a company until they have that registration or Guard Card, according to Joyia Emard, information officer for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, under which the BSIS operates. Broughton and Scott were not in the state license database for Guard Cards. White could not be verified because there were too many entries with the same name, Emard said.
"Two critical components of a BSIS security guard registration are training requirements and a completed background check," Emard said. "In addition to training, the most compelling reason for requiring a person to be a security guard registrant is that the person has undergone a criminal-history review by the bureau as part of the license process.
"As part of the background check, there are fingerprint requirements. All applicants are required to submit two sets of fingerprints," she said. Those prints are submitted to the Department of Justice and the FBI, she added.
Hasan said that she does not do separate background checks and relies on those performed by the state BSIS, which licenses the guards and companies. She only provides the training portion necessary for an application to be a security guard. But state law forbids a company from using a guard who has not passed a security check and received a registration card, Emard said.
"For a private patrol operator, if an individual is performing the duties of a security guard, then he/she must hold a Bureau of Security and Investigative services (BSIS) registration. Guards should not be furnished by a private patrol operator in any capacity without the BSIS registration. There are no exceptions for private patrol operators," she said.
Penalties for violating the law can range from an infraction with a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and an injunction for security guards; for the operator who hires a guard without certifying proof of a current and valid registration for each employee, a fine up to $5,000 may be assessed, Emard said.
The bureau cannot disclose if there are any current investigations of Val Security, she added. But the bureau's database showed no actions against the company.
The City of Palo Alto terminated its contract with Val Security late last year, city spokeswoman Claudia Keith said. A new company, Cypress Private Security, was hired for a six-month contract through June. Company CEO Kes Narbutas said that Cypress does its own background checks and drug testing in addition to relying on the state and federal background checks.
But that does not guarantee things won't happen. On Feb. 21, a Palo Alto police officer on regular patrol saw a man slumped over in a parked car at about 6:45 p.m. on Park Boulevard near West Meadow Drive. The officer stopped to check the person's welfare, and saw that the man was a Track Watch security guard talking on his cellphone. The officer believed the guard may have been masturbating and found a partially filled bottle of wine in the car, police spokesman Zach Perron said.
There is no notation in the police report about the guard being drunk or having consumed any wine, nor any mention of the size of the wine bottle nor if it was open or corked. The guard was in his personal vehicle during a break from work, Perron said.
The officer documented the incident and requested that it be sent to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office for review of any charges. The guard was not cited for anything, because the officer did not witness a crime being committed, Perron said.
"We notified the guard's employer (Cypress Security) on Monday morning, Feb. 22. They immediately suspended the guard and he has not worked another shift for Track Watch since the night this occurred. Nor will he in the future," Perron said.