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Off-duty D.C. cops don’t get to earn extra bucks checking IDs and controlling crowds at area nightspots much anymore. Ex-cops are lucky in that sense.
Take 29-year-old Ariel Benjamin Mannes, a former member of the Metropolitan Police Department, who recently starred in a bit of drama as a bouncer at “Diva nightclub,” the Latin-themed Saturday-night alter ego of downtown D.C. Italian restaurant Tuscana West.
Shortly after midnight on Nov. 6, a fight broke out at the eatery-cum-dance-club on I Street NW, prompting Mannes to draw on his prior law-enforcement experience. He even called in his old buddies in blue for a little backup.
One of the alleged brawlers, 21-year-old Eli Esan Dominguez, was expelled from the club; then he “tripped and fell,” according to court papers. Mannes tried to help him up. For his efforts, the part-time club security guard got punched “in his lower lip with a closed fist.” The ejected patron then “ran towards a tree, tripped over the decorative fencing around it, fell, got up, stumbled into the street knocking over a valet parking sign, all before…security personnel were able to restrain him against a car,” court records detail.
When reporting Officers Robert Elliott and Oliver Robinson arrived on the scene, Mannes was quick to point out Dominguez, who, court records indicate, was “bleeding steadily” with “several lacerations to his head and face.” “That’s the guy I called about,” Mannes reportedly told the officers. “He hit me and wouldn’t leave the club.”
If police had any initial doubts about the bouncer’s story, the Diva staffer offered up another juicy tidbit to boost his credibility: “I’m a police officer with the Department of Transportation, Homeland Security,” Mannes said, according to court records.
Mannes wasn’t joking. According to a police report, the goateed, 6-foot-3, 235-pound bouncer was carrying two badges, each bearing the logo of the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA). When he wasn’t keeping Tuscana West safe for the District’s salsa and merengue fans, it turns out, Mannes was helping to secure the nation’s trains and tracks as a TSA rail inspector.
Unlike the freelancer-unfriendly D.C. force, the TSA doesn’t have a specific policy barring its daytime operatives from moonlighting with the city’s thriving nightlife industry. “You can have a second job,” says TSA spokesperson Darrin Kayser—just as long as there’s no conflict of interest. For a guy like Mannes, it seems, handing out wristbands at Diva is a whole lot more ethical than shilling cheese and crackers in an Amtrak cafe car.
Though his government credentials appeared legit, Mannes wasn’t above police scrutiny.
As authorities outside the club cited Dominguez on a misdemeanor assault charge and sent him off to George Washington University Hospital for treatment, “several witnesses” came forward to tell the officers that Mannes had “kicked [Dominguez] in the face several times while he was on the ground,” according to court records.
Sources close to both Mannes and Dominguez dispute the kicking allegation; they say Mannes never struck Dominguez. Mannes could not be reached for comment.
When other patrons tried to help the fallen clubber, police further alleged in court papers, Mannes “pointed a gun at them, telling them that [he] was the police.”
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Of course, Mannes wasn’t a police officer at the time of the disputed incident. He just used to be. In 2002, Mannes was embroiled in a bizarre incident involving a reporter for the Washington City Paper. On Aug. 16 of that year, City Paper Senior Writer Jason Cherkis wrote a feature titled “The Insider’s Guide to Real Policing,” which satirized the competence of D.C.’s finest. After the story came out, a message from Mannes appeared on a police-oriented Web site advocating reprisals against the reporter. The message included Cherkis’ address, as well as the make, model, and tag number of his car. It encouraged police to aggressively ticket his vehicle. In 2003, Mannes’ four-year tenure with the force ended after an internal investigation of the Cherkis incident.
Even though Mannes was long gone from the D.C. police beat, he did, in fact, have a gun at Diva: a .357-caliber Sig Sauer P229 pistol, loaded with 13 rounds of ammunition, according to a police report. It’s the same model that Sig Sauer supplies to the federal Department of Homeland Security, according to the manufacturer’s Web site—although this fall, the company also began offering a limited number of the guns, “engraved with the American flag and ‘Homeland Security 1 of 1000,’” to the general public for the listed price of $899 a piece.
According to court records, “[t]he gun subsequently test fired operable.”
Mannes was arrested. Initially cited for aggravated assault, impersonating a police officer, and assault with a deadly weapon, he presently faces only one felony charge, of carrying a pistol without a license. A hearing in the case is set for Nov. 29.
D.C. Code prohibits most folks from carrying a pistol “either openly or concealed on or about their person…without a license.” Unlicensed pistol-packers face up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. But there are several exemptions to the law. It doesn’t apply to police, prison wardens, military personnel, “special agents of the Office of Tax and Revenue,” or any “officers or employees of the United States duly authorized to carry a concealed pistol.”
Trouble is, “rail inspectors are not authorized to carry firearms,” says the TSA’s Kayser. “That’s not part of their job. They don’t really chase down suspects or anything.”
A point also noted by D.C. police in court filings: “Further investigation revealed [Mannes] is not a police officer, has no arrest powers, and is not authorized to carry a pistol as part of his job.”
Police confiscated the gun. A judge has since barred Mannes from going anywhere near the makeshift nightclub. And after WTOP reported on the Diva incident—and, perhaps more important, Mannes’ TSA connection—last week, it appears his days as a rail inspector are over, as well. Says Kayser: “Mr. Mannes is no longer employed by TSA.”
DEATH TO SMOOTHIE
Adams Morgan nightspot Asylum celebrated its 14th anniversary this year with an estimated $50,000 makeover. The renovations included the relocation of the two-level venue’s stairwell to make room for a new live-music stage. And the front window was fitted with retractable-garage-door-like capabilities, allowing bands to bring the noise to the greater Adams Morgan vicinity.
But those are just details. Perhaps the biggest format-buster involved icy, fruity drinks. On the top floor of the tenebrous bar, managers installed a smoothie machine, serving up such sweet flavors as strawberry and mango.
Sound a bit frou-frou for a spot more commonly associated with piercings, tattoos, and shots of Jägermeister? That’s what many Asylum employees thought. “We’re not 7-Eleven,” one smoothie-bashing bartender told S&T. “It’s just not Asylum’s style.”
The contraption’s questionable compatibility with the vibe created what owner John Andrade calls “a clash of interests in upper management,” which ultimately spelled doom for the sweet $5 alcohol-infused concoctions.
Asylum wasn’t the first hip D.C. hangout to go soft for smoothies. “We had seen it in action over at 9:30 Club,” Andrade explains. “They got that machine down in the basement. We thought it was cool, y’know? Give it a shot. See what it’s all about.” But, he adds, “we didn’t really like it.”
After only a few weeks, Andrade decided to scrap the frosty-drink machine in October. “It was an idea that was implemented hastily,” he says. “It has been wiped away from the history books of Asylum.”
That’s not to say that Asylum is entirely done with creative concepts involving consumables. This week, Andrade & Co. convened to discuss plans for “pumpkin-pie wrestling.” “We’re still trying to track down a couple of Super Soakers to fill up with whipped cream,” he says.—Chris Shott
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Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Alice Lewis.