Activists say “paramilitary” mall security in Uptown is violating their rights

Conflict Resolution Group owner claims experience in Iraq, Syria and other hotspots

By: - July 28, 2021 6:00 am

A security agent hired by Seven Points Mall inspects a parking area. Demostrators say the security, working in concert with Minneapolis police, have violated their rights. Photo by Chad Davis.

The Seven Points mall in Uptown hired private security contractors to clear out protesters’ memorial garden near a parking ramp where federal agents killed Winston Smith last month, citing increased violence, frequently barricaded streets and literal dumpster fires. 

Activists say the private security guards are more like a “paramilitary security force” that they say has roughed up activists, working in concert with the Minneapolis Police Department to impede First Amendment Rights.

The Legal Rights Center — a nonprofit law firm — says it is “extremely troubled” by reports that employees of a company called Conflict Resolution Group have used “needless and excessive force on multiple occasions, causing severe injuries to innocent people.” 

The Legal Rights Center raised the possibility that the city of Minneapolis is coordinating with the private security contractor, recalling grim accounts of American interventions overseas in places like Iraq. 

In a statement, Legal Rights Center said: “That the Minneapolis Police Department did not intervene when CRG attacked the residents they are sworn to protect further erodes what little trust this community has in its police department.”

The security contractors have been patrolling a warren of private parking lots and garages where protestors have gathered since Smith’s killing. 

When asked about the allegation that city police are working with the private security company to tamp down protests and enforce the law, MPD spokesman John Elder emailed, “That’s false.” He declined to say more. Conflict Resolution Group did not return calls and emails.

CRG’s website says the company specializes in “all facets of high threat protection operations, surveillance, social media tracking and drone operations that were learned and honed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and in high threat permissive environments in Libya and Somalia.” 

The company website says its work force is composed of “former special operations, diplomatic security, law enforcement, government contractors, entertainment protection specialists, intelligence/strategic analysts and tactical medics.”

The company that owns Seven Points Mall declined to comment. 

Andrew Gordon, deputy director of community legal services for the Legal Rights Center, said he’s never seen an arrangement like this. 

“I have no experience with a city or its law enforcement effectively working in collaboration with a private security group to enforce laws in public,” he said.

Gordon said based on the interactions that have been reported to him, the company is employing tactics that appear to come from military training.

Gordon alleges that people were being assaulted, with police officers “standing by doing nothing” and then swooping in to complete a citizen’s arrest.

If someone is hurt, victims can’t go to their city council member or the mayor or MPD — who are “seemingly divorced from this,” Gordon said. 

“That’s worrying,” he said, because the only remedy is a civil lawsuit against a private Chicago company that likely has far more resources than the people harmed — a setup for contentious litigation. If the private security breaks someone’s arm, and that person sues, litigation could drag on for years.

Photo by Chad Davis.

Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said at least three demonstrators have been injured by security contractors.  

The day after a demonstrator was badly injured, an activist who goes by the name Comrade Link — his real name is Kevante Crutchfield — went to the parking garage to speak to a supervisor about it. He filmed what happened next. The video shows him asking to speak to someone about what happened, and being approached by an apparent security guard, who said, “You need to leave” and then quickly detained him before the video cuts out. Crutchfield said the security officers zip-tied him, and then police arrested him for trespassing. Police records show he was arrested for trespassing that day.

Crutchfield’s attorney, John Barham, called it an “egregious situation.”

“We need to get these people out of here,” he said.

Tony Nordby also said he was attacked by the security contractors after he rode his bike to the parking garage about two hours before Crutchfield to see what happened the previous night. He alleged the same CRG employee grabbed him from behind and then he and others sat him down, made him empty his pockets, and detained him for “a long time” before he was cited for trespassing.

Gross said police tape surrounds some of the mall property, and some activists were arrested by MPD after being detained by the private security officers.

Activists say CRG’s owner, Nathan Seabrook, showed disdain for Minneapolis one day before the memorial garden was cleared on a podcast called “Fearless Mindset.” On the show, he said one of his workers who spent a lot of time working in Baghdad said it was “surreal” to see his hometown of Minneapolis with “burned-out cars” and “burned-out buildings” that had “turned into this (expletive)hole.” 

Seabrook added that he had been “extremely busy” since getting licensed in Minnesota, with three clients during Derek Chavin’s murder trial for the death of George Floyd, including a “principal” involved in the trial and his family.

He expressed frustration with protesters on the podcast.

“I understand that people are upset and people want to voice their opinions but this continuing cycle, over and over and over, it’s a bit too much,” he said.

And he said police are overworked and not supported by higher-ups.

“My heart goes out to these men and women that are still trying to hold the line and do the right thing. But unfortunately it does create a vacuum for private security companies,” he said. “I never in a million years thought the experience and knowledge that I learned working in Iraq or Libya… would come into play and I’d be able to take that information and that knowledge and put it into play for operational purposes in Minnesota of all places.”

He said during the podcast interview that one of his employees had taken photos of traps made of I-beams placed in Uptown to thwart military vehicles. He said his team has learned to dress down to look like a “news team” and during “missions” carry open umbrellas to protect themselves from thrown items like frozen pop cans, eggs and rocks, which were employed in Brooklyn Center protests of the police killing of Daunte Wright.

Private security patrolling the area around Seven Points Mall. Photo by Chad Davis.

According to state Board of Private Detective and Protective Agent Services documents, Seabrook is a licensed corporate protective agent and provides security services and “close protection.” His application for a corporate protective agent’s license says he is employed by the United Nations as a foreign service officer and previously worked as a patrol officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, a “convoy mitigation specialist” for SFI International, on a personal security detail for DEH Global and in loss prevention for Kmart.

Seabrook did not respond to a request for comment.

City spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said the protest area was cleared by people privately hired by the property owner, but declined to comment beyond that, referring questions to MPD. 

Gross said civil lawsuits will likely be filed.

“We cannot accept having paramilitary operators in our city over a flipping parking ramp,” Gross said. “We are demanding that CRG pack up their garbage and get the hell out of here.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.