Former Top Deck bouncer testifies at trial

Former bouncer testifies Top Deck staff used 'extreme' violence against patrons

Steve Garrison
A jury was deliberating Thursday on charges that employees and owners of the Top Deck bar in Farmington were negligent and engaged in racial discrimination.

FARMINGTON – A former bouncer at the Top Deck bar told jurors in a discrimination lawsuit against the club on Tuesday that he received no training before he was hired as a bouncer, that the bar's manager discouraged staff from contacting police during disputes with patrons and that the manager used racial slurs in regard to Native Americans.

Bouncers were more likely to turn away Native American patrons than white patrons trying to enter the bar, according to ex-bouncer Tyler Black, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit. He testified that the staff, including manager Matt Douglas, sometimes used "extreme" violence in altercations with patrons, including choking and beating patrons until they were unconscious.

"There were quite a few times when things got out of hand," Black said.

He said Douglas used racial slurs, including "TROGs," when he referred to Native Americans. Black said TROGs was an acronym for "Total Reliance on Government."

Brothers Dustin Curley and Justin Curley, both of whom are Navajo, allege in a civil complaint they were beaten by the bar staff during the night of St. Patrick's Day 2012. Dustin Curley was blinded in his right eye, and Justin Curley's nose was broken in the fight, according to the complaint.

The brothers allege the bar's owner and staff were responsible for the altercation. They claim the beating they sustained was part of a larger pattern of racial discrimination at the bar.

Black testified ethnicity was not a factor in the fight. He said he was a bartender on St. Patrick's Day in 2012, and he punched Dustin Curley because he believed Curley had attempted to punch him.

Farmington police Sgt. David Karst investigated the altercation. He testified Tuesday Black's claim of self-defense was not substantiated by statements from other staff members.

Black was charged with felony battery in connection to the incident, but he later pleaded to misdemeanor battery. The plaintiffs allege Douglas, the manager, punched Justin Curley, who was then kicked in the face by another bouncer, Drew Jackson.

Black said he decided to testify because he wanted "the wrongs to be rights."

"I don't feel Justin deserved to be kicked in the face," he said.

Attorney Emet Rudolfo is representing Susan Douglas and Matt Douglas. Susan Douglas owns the Top Deck and an attached liquor store, the Copper Penny, through Susan Inc., a New Mexico corporation, according to state records.

Rudolfo argued in his opening statement that Douglas and his staff acted to break up a fight between Justin Curley and another man. He said Susan Douglas was not involved in the daily operation of the bar.

Justin Curley testified Tuesday he did argue with another patron, but he did not threaten the other man and did not raise a hand to him.. He admitted in cross-examination that it was possible an outside observer could perceive the argument was going to escalate to violence.

Justin Curley, a 16-year veteran of the Marines, said the incident at Top Deck strained relations between him and his brother, and caused him physical and emotional pain.

"After two tours of duty, I brought my Marines home, but I couldn't protect my brother," he said, crying.

Jackson and another former bouncer, Dustin Jacobs, did not appear in court Tuesday to defend themselves. Black did not retain an attorney.

The Curleys' attorney, Mitch Burns, said in opening statements that Susan Inc. was initially named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but the corporation filed for bankruptcy in February. Burns said the bankruptcy would have stopped proceedings in the civil case, so he was forced to drop the corporation as a plaintiff.

However, the corporation's bankruptcy case was dismissed on April 1, court records state. The U.S. Trustee for the District of New Mexico requested in March that a judge dismiss the case because none of the corporation's assets were insured, which violates the federal government's bankruptcy requirements.

In a brief response, an attorney for Susan Inc. stated the corporation has not been able to obtain insurance due to two pending lawsuits, including the Curley brothers' lawsuit.

In the discrimination case, Susan Douglas failed to respond in October to a "request for admissions" filed by plaintiffs after her previous attorney withdrew, according to court records.

Due to that failure to prepare for trial, Judge Sandra Price ruled Tuesday that Susan Douglas has admitted several "facts" as incontrovertible, or unable to be denied, including the fact that the Curley brothers were assaulted by Top Deck employees because they were Native American and those assaults were "unprovoked."

The judge ruled that although Susan Douglas has admitted those facts, other defendants can dispute their veracity.

The trial is set to conclude today.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.