FARMINGTON - Nearly every night the Top Deck nightclub in Farmington is open, police respond to some type of public disturbance, according to police records.

The nightclub is open about 208 days each year, from Wednesday through Saturday.

In a span of one year, from May 2011 through May 10, 2012, police responded 189 times to the bar, Lt. Bruce Holiday said.

Of the 189 calls, 29 were in reference to fights, 12 were for alleged batteries and there were two calls in reference to someone armed.

Police also responded 11 times for unwanted guests typically someone who previously was banned from the bar and the remaining calls included lesser public disturbances such as urinating in public.

Depending on the call load in the city for any given evening, Farmington district units will frequent the bar looking for violations, or to simply be present to deter any potential problems, including drinking in public, offensive conduct, larceny and auto burglaries.

"Just having an officer present can downplay a lot of the stuff that could happen," Holiday said.

The high number of dispatch calls and the high level of violence illustrates what many believe is a growing problem at the bar and raises the question of the what type and level of private security already is employed and what is needed at the local drinking hole.

 

Bouncers


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"What we are coming across is a high level of intoxication coming out of there," Farmington Police Cpl. David Karst said. "We have a lot of fights. It is rumored through patrons that the bouncers are causing the majority of damage to people."

On March 17, brothers Dustin and Justin Curley accompanied by their sister, Justina Brownhat, and friend, Joel Sauer, went to the Top Deck to celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

The group exited the bar around 1:30 a.m., and while waiting for their designated driver, they began speaking with another man, Jeffrey Kelly, in the parking lot.

The group began arguing about their military service and an argument broke out.

Several bouncers from the Top Deck came outside in response to the argument. But what happened next is a matter of some controversy.

Sauer, in a written statement to police, said that one bouncer, Tyler Black, ran past the group toward Dustin Curley, who was standing 20 feet away from the group.

Sauer claims that Black pushed Dustin Curley three times, each time moving him 1 to 3 yards away from the group.

"The last time Tyler Black pushed him, Dustin Curley stumbled and tried to stand up straight," Sauer wrote. "At this time, Tyler Black hit Dustin Curley directly in the face. Dustin fell and was twitching on the ground."

When Sauer went to check on Curley, who still was "twitching and convulsing," Black allegedly faced Sauer, swung on him and then hit him in the left eye, according to court records.

The scene as described by the parties involved was chaos.

Black claims he was defending himself and another bouncer against members of the group that were hitting them.

Another bouncer, Dustin Jacobs, reportedly told police that while he didn't see Black get hit, he is insistent that Black was backed into a corner and did "what he had to do and punched all three of the subjects," according to police records.

Police arrived and separated the parties. Dustin Curley remained on the ground and was eventually taken to San Juan Regional Medical Center. Later he was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque to be treated for the damage to his right eye, according to court records.

He temporarily lost vision in that eye as a result of being punched and a month after the incident, he underwent surgery to repair a detached retina.

Police arrested several people and among them Black, who was charged with one count of felony aggravated battery and one count of misdemeanor battery. The charges against Black were bound over to district court after a more than one-hour preliminary hearing.

Justin and Dustin Curley declined to comment pending the outcome of a possible civil case against the bar. Their attorney, Mitch Burns, was out of the country and could not be reached.

The St. Patrick's Day incident is not the first time Black was arrested for his behavior while working in the capacity as a bouncer for the bar.

Two years earlier, on Sept. 16, 2010, witnesses accused Black of spewing racial slurs at a woman before grabbing one woman by the hair while another woman kicked her. Black was charged in that incident with criminal damage to property for kicking a nearby vehicle and bending the car's antenna.

Black's attorney, Russell Frost, through his secretary declined to comment on the ongoing criminal case.

Those charges ultimately were dismissed by prosecutors, but both incidents illuminate the high level of violence that occurs at the bar and the establishment's seeming inability to maintain peace and order.

 

Coupled with the bouncers' lack of proper attire labeling them as security and lack of training, the bar is a hotbed for lawlessness.

“Going to that bar is easily excessive and the numbers back it up,” Karst said. 

Farmington police do respond to other bars but not to the degree they respond to Top Deck, he added. 

Tyler's employment status to date remains unknown.

Susan Douglas, co-owner of the bar and neighboring liquor store, The Copper Penny, declined to comment before abruptly hanging up the phone.

 

NIGHTLY VIOLENCE

 

Fights continue to be a frequent occurrence at Top Deck.

As recently as two weeks ago, police arrested a man for aggravated battery after he allegedly kicked a man so hard in the face that it sent him to the hospital.

The injured man was trying to break up a fight.

The incident, which was captured on police video, depicted two men fighting. A third man, Glen Russel, approached the two men and bent over to grab the male that was on top.

When Russel did this, another man, Hector Salinas, ran up and kicked Glen in the face.

The police officer reviewing the video footage reported Salinas took "approximately four running steps forward and pulled his foot back as if to kick a football for a field goal. I observed his foot swing forward and strike (Russel) directly in the face. (Salinas) continued forward, hopping as if off balance because he kicked (Russel) so hard," according to the police report.

Russel fell over and didn't move, unconscious after being kicked.

One witness reported to police that Salinas, after kicking the man, jumped up and down "in a celebratory manner as if he had just kicked a field goal in a football game."

"It's a nightly thing it seems like," Karst, who worked the area while he was in Farmington police's DWI unit, said of the fights.

"It was by far a huge call load," he said of responding to the bar.

 

SOLVING THE PROBLEM

 

The job of a bouncer is to provide safety and security to bar patrons and employees. Establishment owners have a responsibility to reasonably ensure they protect patrons against foreseeable threats of injury, said Ralph Whitherspoon, president of Whitherspoon Security Consulting based in Cleveland, Ohio.

That responsibility "includes the responsibility for preventing fights or getting fighting people out of there," he said.

But breaking up fights, to the extent a bouncer engages in physical violence, is only used as an absolute last resort.

"Management sets the tone and atmosphere of any club," Whitherspoon said, and in many cases employees are left to play situations by ear and make up their own policies and rules as they go along.

In many cases management "simply doesn't know what they are doing with bouncers," he said.

A good, strong policy would absolutely clear up the issues at Top Deck, Karst said in reference to the establishment's security policies.

"It absolutely could be a self-regulated fix," he said.

The mindset of security often is focused on the size and stature of the bouncer rather than proper procedures and ample training.

In many cases, bars don't run a criminal background check on their employees, Whitherspoon said.

Failure to train, failure to wear proper clothing that identifies security personnel and failure for security personnel to properly verbally identify themselves are major issues that face nightclubs across the country.

For the most part, bouncers, doormen and security guards are not a regulated entity. Some cities, including New York City and San Francisco, have established minimum requirements for nightclub security. But nationally, it largely remains an unregulated arena.

"The true job of a security person is to deter violence before it occurs and only when it's erupted, before they have a chance to do anything, should they actually get directly involved," Whitherspoon said. "And only then, legally there is only so much they can do.

"Do they have some basic understanding of what the law is in their state with respect to use of force?" he said.

What, if any, policies exist at the Top Deck remain unclear, including proper attire identifying security guards, training requirements and direction on how to properly break up a fight.

In a written statement to police, Black reported that managers instruct bouncers "to use force when feeling threatened or being attacked, if possible to not use force or use as little as possible."

While Black claims he identified himself as security during the St. Patrick's Day fight, he wore no uniform that would identify him as a security guard.

He was wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt that said "Made in Ireland."

In that fight Black threw three punches resulting in five black eyes, two broken noses and a detached retina, Karst said.

"It's just an extreme use of force in my opinion," he said.

Police officers, Karst said, have a strict use of force policy.

Even as an officer breaking up a fight, policy dictates an officer can't use punches in the face or to the head.

"A strike to the face is pretty high up on the use of force continuum," he said. "You basically have to justify self defense and that would have to be the only means you have to defend yourself."