It’s hard to know just what to make of Jimmy Rogers?
Is he a retail-warrior version of Don Quixote, jousting windmills in the thriving Green Hills retail district? Or, for all his eccentricities, is Rogers the one guy who is actually responding rationally to the recent violent crimes against Green Hills shoppers?
In one breath, Rogers talks about his memories as a youth, who ran around with a stick in the backyard pretending to be John Wayne. He transitions into combat stories from Vietnam, and then tales from his time as a Metro cop, where he worked as a latent fingerprint expert.
These days, Rogers is the owner of Tennessee Security Services, which employs 24 guards. Rogers and his security guards oversee a four-block stretch of Green Hills real estate, including the Regal Green Hills Cinema and Bedford Commons — just a portion of the mall property.
It may sound like a cushy gig, but that’s not how Rogers describes his job of keeping the affluent Green Hills shoppers safe as they fork over their hard-earned money for all the pricey goods and services the retail district has to offer.
“We’re in a battlefield,” Rogers said. “I may wind up on someone caught in a robbery, or maybe a raping. I’d better be trained to do my job, or I’d better not go home at night,” he said.
Now it would be easy to chalk up Rogers as an alarmist, except for one thing: the reality that Green Hills recently has seen its share of violent crime.
The most shocking incident took place on March 3 on the top floor of the parking garage that adjoins to the Dillard’s department store inside the Mall at Green Hills. Bob DeMoss, a 63-year-old retiree who has lived his entire life in Nashville, parked his 2002 Grand Marquis and made his way toward Dillard’s.
DeMoss was but a few feet away from his vehicle when 21-year-old Bobby Tice Jr. allegedly approached him from behind with a baseball bat. Tice was one of four young people who were allegedly canvassing the Green Hills parking area for the purpose of robbing people for drug money.
According to a lawsuit filed by DeMoss’s family in Circuit Court, Tice struck him on the head with the bat. When DeMoss went to the pavement, Tice allegedly hit him in the head several more times, according to the lawsuit.
The quartet — Tice, Catherine Mills, Johnathon Harris and Brittney Bannister — made off with $173. Within days, the four were each arrested and charged with especially aggravated assault.
DeMoss, however, was transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center where he was treated for “catastrophic” injuries, which have left him in need of 24-hour-a-day rehabilitative care.
Catherine Robette Campbell, DeMoss’s niece and conservator, filed a $10 million lawsuit against Dillard’s Inc., which owns and provides security for the garage.
“My client wants to accomplish two things with this lawsuit,” said Nashville attorney John Norris, who is representing Campbell in the civil suit. “ The first is to bring Bob home and, second, to make sure what happened to Bob doesn’t happen to someone else.”
Shoppers on alert
The savage beating of DeMoss, who suffered a fractured skull and brain damage because of the assault, put Green Hills retailers on guard. Was the crime a random act of violence, or were criminals now targeting Green Hills shoppers for their money?
“Shoppers in Green Hills are what criminals refer to as a soft target,” Rogers said.
While crime stats don’t show a rise in incidents, shoppers have been on alert because of the high-profile nature of the attacks. Amber Cruth lives in East Nashville, but frequently shops in the Green Hills area.
“You wouldn’t think that would happen here,” Cruth said. “You hear bad things I guess anywhere, but it did scare me a little bit. I’m more aware living in East Nashville than I am here, I don’t watch my back quite as much.”
As it were, the beating of DeMoss was preceded just three days by another robbery attack against a Green Hills shopper.
On Feb. 28, Adam Sharpe was attacked as he started to get out of his car to head toward the Cheeseburger Charley’s adjacent to the mall and movie theater. Sharpe was allegedly approached by two men, who struck him, forced his head into the wedged car door and stole his wallet.
The attack on Sharpe occurred within shouting distance of the attack on DeMoss, yet according to the DeMoss family lawsuit, no extra security measures were taken to protect shoppers in the days that followed.
In early June, 18-year-old Erin Thurman had his car break down inside the parking garage connected to the movie theater — a garage that Tennessee Security Services protects.
According to Rogers, security guards asked Thurman if he needed help, to which he said no. But less than five minutes later, Thurmon was approached by two men, who held a gun to his head and forced him into his trunk after robbing his wallet and cell phone.
“I’m trying to tell people, it’s dangerous here,” Rogers said. “That boy wasn’t alone but five minutes and [he was still robbed]. We deal with gangs; we deal with thieves. It’s serious.”
The prominent crimes against shoppers have left retailers with two questions.
The first is to discern whether the crimes point to Green Hills shoppers being targeted. The second is whether retailers are doing everything possible in order to keep themselves safe.
In response to concerns, Metro Councilman Sean McGuire, who represents Green Hills, is in the process of facilitating a community meeting where shop owners and shoppers can seek the counsel of Metro Police.
“We want to do everything we can to keep everyone as safe as we can,” he said.
However, McGuire pointed out that the crime statistics provided by Metro Police show crime is actually on the decline in recent months.
Scott McClure, who works as the marketing director for the Mall at Green Hills, said the mall does not discuss its security operations, but pointed out both the assault against DeMoss and the robbery of Thurmon took place off of mall property.
“We feel like it’s more random acts than anything that seems to have any type of trend,” McClure said.
Rogers disagrees and believes there is a lack of communication between the security companies, which patrol the parking lots around the mall.
“There needs to be better communication between the different security companies and the police,” Rogers said.
Safe and secure?
The Tennessee Security Services guards are armed and many are former police officers. A ruling by the Tennessee Attorney General allows armed security officers a fair amount of leeway to essentially act as law enforcement officers on private property. Rogers said all guards in the Green Hills area ought to be armed.
In response to the high-profile crimes, Rogers said he’d like to offer free safety training classes to retail shop owners and frequent Green Hills shoppers so they could learn how to keep as safe as possible.
“We would do this free of charge,” Rogers said, although he offered no details on when such classes might occur.
Metro Police, in the meantime, have not bulked up patrols in the mall area, because contrary to what the prominent nature of the crimes might indicate, statistics say incidents are down.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been just seven criminal incidents in the parking area around the mall, police said. But the three assaults that made headlines generated lots of interest and raised some questions.
Rogers said there have been enough high-profile crimes for Green Hills shoppers and retailers to make a change.
“People in Green Hills have enough influence to change things,” Rogers said. “It’s obvious that crime is on the rise in the Green Hills area, and we must take steps to ensure all people have the right to shop and be safe.”