City Paper is not for tourists
One night last spring, Anacostia resident
Gerald Martin and his girlfriend were getting their groove on at Southwest D.C.’s Zanzibar on the Waterfront when, Martin claims, he was “told he could not dance in that spot.” Then, after Martin had a brief exchange of words with a bouncer, his “head was smashed to the floor, his arm twisted and bent back,” according to a lawsuit filed with D.C. Superior Court. He was then “brutally kneed in the groin,” “dragged to the back of the restaurant,” and, to add insult to injury, laughed at, according to court papers.
Zanzibar admits that Martin “was requested to cease dancing,” court records show, “but the remaining averments are denied.” But who exactly caused Martin’s alleged “physical injury and emotional and psychological harm” on April 3, 2004? Who knows? His lawsuit blames “JOHN DOES NOS. 1 and 2.”
Similarly, on Aug. 29, 2002, Hyattsville resident Michael Bowers was, according to his lawsuit, “physically assaulted and battered”specifically, put in a chokehold and slammed against a brass railingat now-shuttered Northwest go-go hub Club U, with resulting “severe injuries to his back and left foot.” (Club U has formally denied the allegations.)
Bowers’ accused batterer? An “UNKNOWN AGENT, SERVANT, AND/OR EMPLOYEE OF RUSSELL SECURITY.”
And back on April 21, 2002, Oakton, Va., resident Nam V. Dong claims, he was “tackled, grabbed, and/or manhandled” and “pushed…
down a flight of stairs” by employees of Adams Morgan’s Club Heaven & Hell, with the result of “a tortious injury”in this case, according to court papers, a broken clavicle.
Dong’s accused manhandlers? More numerically identified “JOHN DOES”: “ONE, TWO & THREE.” (Heaven & Hell has denied the allegations and, court records show, “any references to John Does.”)
Hey, bouncers aren’t usually known for wearing name tags. And most people aren’t prone to ask, either, especially when they’re on the receiving end of a good pummeling. Thus, the anonymous perpetrator has become something of a stock character in numerous pieces of nightspot-negligence litigation.
“When you initially file a lawsuit, you know that something happened, you know that a bouncer may have done it, but you don’t know who they were,” explains attorney John F. Pressley, who represents Martin in the Zanzibar case. “You file it sometimes as a John Doe, assuming you want to make the individual perpetrators parties to the case.”
Later, during the pretrial process of discovery, you try to get a better grasp on the accused person’s true identity. “Most of the time, you’re going to be able to find out exactly who was involved,” says Pressley. But not alwaysand that can prove problematic when making your case.
“It presents a difficulty that one is unable to identify the exact perpetrator,” says D.C. lawyer Nigel Scott. “One has to establish to some extent who committed the crime.” The venue’s defense team “could argue that they were not responsible because they didn’t know who the individual was,” Scott says, “and it’s upon the plaintiff to establish the connection between the perpetrator and the management.”
Last fall, Scott settled a lawsuit against East End nightclub Platinum and its management company, Abdul Productions II Inc. Of course, he didn’t quite get the $2 million that his client, Columbia Heights resident William Ridley, initially sought in the suit, which claimed that on July 30, 2001, Ridley was “physically attacked, assaulted and battered” by “an individual known only as John Doe but recognized as an employee of the Defendant Abdul Productions or its agents and employees.”
Ridley didn’t get a good look at his alleged attacker, Scott says. But others did. “He had some friends with him, and they saw who it was,” the attorney says, “and they were able to help try to identify who he was.” Those descriptions, however, weren’t enough to nail down an assailant before, Scott says, “he disappeared into the woodwork.” (Platinum attorney Simon Osnos declined to comment on the case.)
Still, Scott’s client did get some compensation from club management: For his reported “severe and permanent injuries and damage and ongoing pain and suffering,” court records show, Ridley received $30,000. Would having an actual name have made any difference? “Probably,” Scott says.
Granted, accidents will always happen, no matter how well-trained a club’s security staff. But is the no-names policy accidental? It must be. In the latest edition of the 336-page The Nightclub, Bar and Restaurant Security Handbook, authors Robert A. McManus and Sean M. O’Toole offer club personnel some good advice on filling out internal incident reports. “Simply writing ‘One guy hit another guy,’ is insufficient,” they write. Instead, managers should load their reports with details such as “Tim Smith and John Doe, both club security, stepped in between the patrons and separated them.”
Bouncers are, by and large, just anonymous by nature. At Northeast D.C. nightclub Fur, for instance, security personnel, called “hosts,” are uniformly dressed in suits. “They are all certified. They are all highly trained. They are all insured and bonded,” says David McLeod, the club’s security director. And they are largely indistinguishable. “If you ask them their name, they’ll tell you,” McLeod says. Otherwise, they’re merely part of the establishment. “They have a Fur logo on their lapel,” he says. “They don’t need a nametag.”
But finding out bouncers’ true identities hasn’t been so problematic for attorney Karen Cleaver-Bascombe, who’s presently pursuing a whopping nine-count, $27.5 million negligence and civil-rights complaint against Ivy City megaclub Dream and the D.C. government.
Her filingwhich claims that (a) client Mark Prince Edwards was struck “in face with [a] hand held walkie talkie” and then “restrained and severely beaten about the head and body,” (b) client Onoriode Egbeju was “also stomped,” and (c) both men were “falsely arrested” and “not given medical attention” after a parking dispute in January 2004already identifies five accused security personnel: Mehdi Rofoujaran, Keith Adam Shulman, Moe Darwish, Marcelo Pepe, and Shirafkan Makan.
How’d she get their names? “It’s actually quite simple,” Cleaver-Bascombe says: Her suit had the luxury of following a criminal trial in D.C. Superior Court pertaining to the same incident. “They came and testified,” she says.
But even in this suit, there are a few missing personswhose names Cleaver-Bascombe hopes opposing counsel will kindly provide during discovery. For now, they remain “BOUNCER JOHN DOE #1,” “BOUNCER JOHN DOE #2,” and “BOUNCER JOHN DOE #3.”
As a performer and a patron, Amanda Kleinman is a big fan of the Warehouse Next Door. It’s a place where people seemed to be “enjoying themselves” when her rock group, the Apes, took the stage to promote their latest CD, Baba’s Mountain, on April 30. “They were all throwin’ down,” says Kleinman, who plays organ in the retrodelic quartet.
But when Kleinman went back to the Warehouse on May 9, the small live-music hall near Mount Vernon Square just wasn’t its usual throwin’-down self. There was a palpable tension in the air, she says.
Only a few folksby her count, less than a dozenhad gathered to catch the evening’s headlining act, Texas-based garage rockers the Crack Pipes. Sure, it was a Monday night. But something else was amiss. The tiny crowd seemed, in her words, “dangerously sober and slightly angry.”
The soberness, at least, was the fault of the Warehouse bar, where patrons usually slake their thirst with $3 Budweisers and $4 Yuenglings, which on this night was strangely out of service. The only thing on customers’ lips was…“Why?”
“It was definitely an item of discussion,” says Kleinman. “I’m not really a drinker, so, you know, for me, it was definitely a ‘Whatever.’ But for the, like, the 10 or so folks that were actually there, I think they were genuinely bummed out….Even the bands seemed bummed out. The staff seemed a little bummed out, too.”
Bummed out because the Warehouse’s license to sell alcohol, it turns out, was expired. Long expired. In fact, the 1,000-square-foot performance space formerly known as Ruppert’s Real Restaurant hadn’t had a valid license since March 31of 2004, according to city records.
Owners Molly Ruppert and Paul Ruppert hadn’t realized their yearlong licensing lapse. “What happened was I thought Molly had renewed it,” explains Paul Ruppert, “and she thought that I had renewed it”an oversight he blames on the complexities of having only two people overseeing an operation that also includes a cafe, a 150-seat theater, and an upstairs art gallery. “There’s a million and one things with the theater and the gallery,” he adds.
Good thing, then, that the Rupperts got a friendly reminder from the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration. “The inspector came by,” Paul says. “And, you know, we just didn’t have it up to date at that point. So he said, ‘You can’t sell unless you have an up-to-date license.’ So that’s why we stopped serving.”
To restart serving, Ruppert had to shell out $1,000 to renew the licenseplus late fees. The bar was back open on May 13. But for nearly a week, the Warehouse had kept it closed, reaping only the ticket-sales revenue it splits evenly with performers.
Ruppert, though, downplays the loss of bar sales. “We aren’t talking huge numbers here,” he says, “except with some shows, you know, like the Assrockers show, for instance. We sell a lot of beer whenever they play here. But most shows, people will have one or two beers….
They’re not looking to get real blitzed here.”
Heck, to some, the absence of alcohol was a welcome change. On May 8, the Warehouse featured the final performance of local hardcore outfit Exosus, which seemed to attract “a lot of straightedge people,” Ruppert says. “They didn’t care.” Chris Shott
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