Bounce Check

Club patrons are getting hurt.
Many blame poorly trained security staff.

By Brian Hickey
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 21, 2001

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In 1996, Rivera won a $999,000 settlement against the now-defunct Key Club for an incident that occurred four years earlier in the Jersey Shore club.

That night, Rivera told his co-workers that he broke away from his birthday celebration after watching three bouncers slam a patron against the roof of a car. Identifying himself as a police officer, he ordered them to stop. But instead, they threw him into a light pole and snapped his left arm.

He reached for his gun but dropped it when one of the bouncers bit him. Another picked up the weapon and started waving it as the others continued smacking Rivera around. A couple of uniformed officers who noticed the melee sped down the block, police lights flashing. Even that wasn't enough to stop the bouncers, who then began brawling with the cops until they were finally cuffed.

It's a case that shows what happens when bouncer misconduct is taken to the extreme, but one that Rivera's attorney, Edward Kondracki, says sums up a dangerous yet far too prevalent mindset in the industry.

"These guys really thought they were above the law," says Kondracki, of Cherry Hill. "They just went nuts."

Several bouncers at Philadelphia clubs, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say that while it's sometimes necessary to rough up patrons who act irrationally and irresponsibly, there are lines that should not ever be crossed. Not only do violent bouncers risk getting their employers sued, but the law affords them no more protection against assault charges than anyone else.

A general yet oft-ignored rule in the bouncer world is to restrict physical contact to self-defense situations. But far too often, oversized ex-football players and weightlifters with a hunger for action are hired and left to their own devices.

"The last punch I threw at work was 15 months ago," recalls a security guard at a city gentleman's club. "We asked a bunch of guys to leave because they were getting out of line. Once we got them outside, they were verbally abusive and kept trying to get back in. A guy or two spit at us and another threw a racial slur. Well, that pissed some people off."

Three of the four ejected patrons kept running their mouths. Not the best idea when there's a group of bouncers with the combined weight of a Mack truck or two on the receiving end.

"Oh, they paid for it," the bouncer continues. "There were seven of us, but it was never a two-on-one. We did take turns, though. It happens, you know? But it was an isolated incident. At the end of the night, we sat down and analyzed what happened, what we did right and what we did wrong. It was probably the wrong way to handle it, but they were doing stupid stuff."

That particular bouncer and his co-workers have taken courses in self-defense and acceptable crowd-management techniques. But an informal chat like the one those bouncers had after their brawl is often all the training Philadelphia club staffs receive.

Sure, the clubs have policies about when to use force and how to use it. But employees are usually hired for their size and intimidation factor. Whether they read the policy apparently isn't all that important.

"Obviously, they're looking for really big people," says a security staff member at Egypt. "They're assuming that they have enough strength to hold someone down or break up a fight." About the management, he adds, "There's a policy but not much training. They kind of just wing it."

(After agreeing to an interview about Egypt's security, owner Barry Gutin, who also runs Shampoo, abruptly canceled an appointment with PW. )

Many clubs fail to conduct background checks on their prospective hires, which means they often miss violent histories that can predict future problems.

Lack of training isn't the only reason bouncers sometimes cross the line. Witherspoon, the security consultant from Cleveland, says rather than depending on knowledge, bouncers often see their jobs as a personal mission.

He says some clubs hire outside firms that train their employees to handle security. But those are not the places where problems arise. (In some cities, off-duty police officers can work at clubs; Philadelphia isn't among them. Philly officers can work outside clubs for overtime, but are barred from working inside.)

The clubs that hire their own security staff tend to have the most trouble.

"It's machismo, me versus him," says Witherspoon. "It's not that someone's being disruptive. It's that he's challenging me and I'm not gonna have it. I have a rep to maintain. It's like a grammar-school playground mentality."

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