WHAT'S A REALLY bad night out? When a visit to a dance club ends in a hospital trip, 30 stitches, or death. Those are the three sorry incidents at stake in three separate lawsuits involving Portland bouncer company Top Flyte Security.
While tales of regrettable drunken incidents are no surprise at Old Town's busy clubs, the series of legal complaints against Top Flyte raises a red flag about whether the beefy bouncers are being too rough.
Top Flyte owner Timo Porotesano—who manages security for several downtown clubs including Dirty, Candy, and the Barrel Room—says his bouncers (hired as independent contractors by the clubs) have unfairly earned a bad reputation after the high-profile death of 22-year-old Michael Ellis last winter. Ellis' family filed a $2.5 million suit against Top Flyte and Club 915 in May after a bouncer kicked Ellis out of the club on the coldest night of the year and would not allow him back in to get his jacket; Ellis died of hypothermia near Tom McCall Waterfront Park that same night.
"We really do try our best to stay out of physical confrontation," says Porotesano. "They call us the gentle teddy bears."
That's not the image two new lawsuits paint. Last week, attorney Lake Perriguey filed a complaint on behalf of his client Tushar Singh seeking $530,000 for pain and suffering and medical expenses incurred after an August 14 incident at Dirty.
Nike engineer Singh says he was at Dirty that night with three friends. He had only three drinks over the course of the night, and at 2 am, he walked behind a security guard standing near the bar. A security video shows Singh trip slightly, and then shows the guard grabbing Singh's arm from behind. Singh tries to pull away, and the pair fall into the crowd. Singh's head hit the side of a small stage, opening a gash that required 30 stitches. Although the suit doesn't actually say the incident was ethnically motivated, it does note that Singh was wearing a turban at the time. Dirty was the scene of an anti-Arab hate crime last winter ["You Arab, I Know Your Kind," News, Jan 13].
Singh says the guard aggressively pushed him down. Dirty owner Chris Lenahan says the video shows the opposite: Singh pulling down the much-larger guard.
With 1,200 people coming through Dirty's doors on a busy Saturday night, says Lenahan, confrontations are inevitable: "We're always trying to watch out for you. I'm like a giant babysitter. We're one of the only bars with a drunk tank."
Portland attorney Adam Greenman is expected to formally a file a suit against Dirty within the next six weeks, also calling out an altercation with Top Flyte guards. Greenman's three clients were walking past the club on July 30 when he says a pair of bouncers mistook them for men suspected of robbing Dirty of liquor bottles.
"The bouncers set upon them," says Greenman, who's seeking damages from the nightclub. "My clients are three Afghanistan war veterans. They're not little old ladies in wheelchairs. They were thrown to the ground and beaten." All of the men required medical attention, and one went to the hospital.
Lenahan says he does not recall the incident, but that security employees at Dirty are allowed to use force on a "case-by-case basis" to defend themselves. "If you take a punch at us, we absolutely have the right to protect ourselves," says Lenahan.