The signage at Fasika’s hints at why the Adams Morgan venue just might need a bouncer or two. Neon phrases posted side by side above the entrance to owner Fasika Mariam’s self-described “upscale restaurant with no dress code” aptly illustrate the place’s split personality: “Ethiopian Cuisine” and “Wild Life.”
A bit too wild for some patrons. “Not really my type of spot,” says Silver Spring resident Kandace Murray, citing the presence of a “shady” element on Friday and Saturday nights, when tables and chairs are pushed aside to make room for post-dining parties. “Rotating resident dj’s spin sexy sounds,” according to Fasika’s Web site, “as the mix drinks and bubbly flow.”
Blood, too, says Murray, whose former boyfriend, Sharif Robinson, was allegedly jumped by multiple assailants, robbed of his jewelry, beaten, and stabbed twice in the 18th Street NW restaubar’s restroom on April 30, according to a police report.
Appearing before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board last week, Murray and D.C. Assistant Attorney General Khadijah Muhammad-Starling portrayed Fasika’s as a dangerous nighttime den of “unlawful and disorderly conduct.”
That characterization underscores the quandary of some bouncers along D.C.’s main party corridors: If you don’t come equipped, you might get killed. If you do, you might get locked up.
Fasika’s employee Abdul Umrani, for instance, came prepared for all-out combat on the night of March 5, when, according to police, a complaining citizen saw the doorman “carrying a gun in a holster” just outside the venue’s entrance.
Confronted by police officer Dustin Roeder about the suspicious protrusion on his right side, the bouncer confessed to packing at least some degree of heat—“a BB gun,” according to Roeder’s report. Specifically, a black Daisy Powerline air pistol, which, according to the manufacturer, “[m]ay be dangerous up to 240 yards.”
Though perhaps not the deadliest form of firearm, Umrani’s air pistol is nonetheless a no-no in the handgun-banning District, which considers “[a]ny pneumatic, spring, or B-B gun which expels a single projectile not exceeding .18 inch in diameter” to be a “Destructive device,” prohibited under D.C. Code.
Umrani was promptly cited for possessing the illicit armament. The 23-year-old Frederick, Md., resident later explained to investigators from D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) that he was “‘practicing’ with the BB gun prior to reporting to duty at Fasikas,” according to an ABRA report, “but forgot to take the BB gun off.”
Add to that accidental arsenal “two cans of pepper spray,” which, Roeder told ABRA, were also “in [Umrani’s] possession at the time of his arrest.” Another violation of D.C. law.
For breaking the District’s Draconian ordnance rules, Umrani was sentenced in April to serve one year of unsupervised probation and to pay a $200 fine. Fasika’s has since parted ways with the pellet-gun-packing employee.
Years ago, bouncers didn’t have to worry about the D.C. Code—after all, they were the ones enforcing it. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) personnel formerly staffed the doors at rowdy nightclubs across the city. But in 1997, cop Brian Gibson was shot to death outside Georgia Avenue NW’s Ibex Club, and a ban on cops’ moonlighting as bouncers followed.
Sure, a few spots pull strings to have the luxury of MPD’s “reimbursable detail” patrolling their location. But that service is quite limited. And the cops stay mostly outside.
With no badge and no gun, beefy civilians are left to fend for themselves, often at great personal risk. Tussling with a knife-wielding clubber this past February, Keith Massey, a bouncer at the Northeast nightclub then called Dream, “sustained a non-visible injury to the shoulder,” according to an ABRA report.
When given a choice between sustaining and inflicting injuries, bouncers tend to choose the latter. “Due to strongarm methods practiced in the past, most laws regarding club security are designed to protect patrons from security,” write authors Robert A. McManus and Sean M. O’Toole in the latest edition of their 336-page The Nightclub, Bar and Restaurant Security Handbook.
Speaking to several security personnel this week, S&T was led to believe that: (a) No good bouncer carries any type of weapon, (b) effective bouncers possess amazing communication skills that allow them to defuse hostile situations simply with de-escalating language, and (c) smart bouncers will lay a finger on you only if you’re being a belligerent instigator.
“We don’t hit,” says Polly Esther’s security-“usher”-turned-general-manager Holley Paris. “It’s self-defense only.”
Problem is, some protective personnel have been known to get a bit trigger-happy with whatever defensive equipment is handy.
It could be a conventional weapon, such as a knife—which, police say, bouncers at former downtown tavern So Much More brandished during a dispute over a $5 cover charge in May 2004. “[S]even patrons received lacerations,” according to an ABRA report. No arrests were reported.
It could be a real gun. With real bullets. Outside Dream in May 2004, three people, including an off-duty police officer, were allegedly shot by a security guard, whom police later identified as Carlton J. Brown, an employee of club-contracted D.C. security firm Ink Reinforcement Agency. Brown, 52, has pleaded not guilty to six separate felony assault and firearm charges. His trial is set for Oct. 6.
Or it could be something entirely unexpected—say, a BB gun. Or a two-way radio. Capitol Hill resident Mark Prince Edwards is presently suing Dream owner Marc Barnes, alleging that a Dream bouncer struck him “in the face with his hand held walkee talkee,” during a parking dispute in January 2004. Barnes has formally denied the allegation.
But short-fused bouncers aren’t the only ones who can’t be trusted in the presence of any potentially weaponizable instrument. That goes for club patrons, as well.
Even seemingly innocent items can quickly change hands and be turned against employees, warn McManus and O’Toole: “[Y]ou do not want [security] to be wearing anything which could be used as a weapon, such as: mace, particular key chains (or keys), steel-toed boots, oversized flashlights, spurs, certain types of jewelry and other miscellaneous accessories.”
Is there no legal, nonlethal, turnover-proof implement that bouncers can safely have on hand to deter violent party crashers?
Paris suggests that the best ammo is a pair of breasts. “Nobody wants to be the guy who beats up a girl,” she says. “Nobody wants to be the guy who gets beat up by a girl, either.”
Male bouncers just have to make do.
“I recommend nothing,” says David McLeod, security director for Northeast nightclub Fur. “Anything that could potentially harm a patron is out of the question.”
In today’s litigation-prone club scene, McLeod suggests, even a bouncer’s own muscle can be a liability.
“Even in a fistfight, we’re gonna get the bad end of the stick,” he says. “If I put my hands on him without him putting his hands on me first, I get locked up. I get an assault charge. That’s why I recommend to any security in the District area—or anywhere—‘Don’t put your hands on nobody.’” —Chris Shott
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Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustration by Doug MacDonald.