I take no enjoyment in recounting how a drunk redneck sucker-punched me in the line for the men's room at Neumos on Friday night. I take even less in explaining how Seattle police officers, in their infinite competency, managed to accidentally let the guy go after being distracted for a minute outside the club. I will, nonetheless, do both now.
I'm not nearly as well-versed in the alt-country scene as Seely, and was new to Bingham and his brand of gravel-throated yarns--though I must say I was pretty impressed, and just now downloaded Junky Star, which I'm currently digesting along with Radiohead's King of Limbs.
Anyhow, after procuring some beverages at the bar, we took our places on the upper-floor balcony where Neumos cordons off its over-21 drinking crowd. About halfway through the show, a group of large, loud, Carhartt-shirt-wearing dudes in their mid-to-late 20s showed up behind us and started hooting and hollering and nearly falling on their faces. At one point one of them bumped into some guy and threatened to whoop his ass before he was restrained by a slightly less wrecked member of the party.
Rolling our eyes at the apes, we'd done our best to keep enjoying the show.
But a little later I went to go stand in line to use the restroom (Neumos has only two single-occupancy bathrooms upstairs, and on busy nights the line gets ridiculous). I waited for about 10 minutes and then, as the final guy opened the door to exit and my bladder was about to detonate, one of the douchebags from the balcony shoved his way to the front of the line, gave a giant shit-eater grin to everyone he'd nearly knocked over and pushed his way into the bathroom, slamming the door.
At this point the entire line was erupting into objections over the blatant line-cut, and I, being at the front of the line, pounded on the door. A few seconds later, with my attention distracted by who-knows-what, the door cracked open and a large sweaty fist flew out and cracked me in the lip, bloodying it.
Shrugging off the blow, I jumped forward to rip the man's eyeballs from their sockets, but Neumos security, having already seen the way he'd entered the bathroom, was close by and grabbed the dude and me immediately before I could retaliate.
"You stay here," a guard told me. "We saw everything. We'll call the cops and he'll go to jail."
Fair enough, I thought. If I wasn't going to get to go toe-to-toe with the guy, at least I'd get to see him in handcuffs.
So call the cops they did.
Several SPD officers soon showed up, and while I was told to wait just inside the door, they were outside questioning the guy. A handful of security guards and Neumos patrons who'd seen the incident were also there testifying on my behalf and SPD's Officer Brett Schoenberg interviewed me.
"You know, we normally don't arrest in situations like this," he said, seemingly trying to get me to drop the whole thing and chalk it up to a rough night at the bars.
When I assured him that I wanted to press charges and would indeed show up to court, he said "OK" and promised that he'd be charged.
At that point a younger officer (whose name I didn't get) came inside and said there was a separate incident going on outside with a woman spitting on people.
"Where's our guy?" Schoenberg asked the young officer, in reference to the redneck who punched me.
"Wait, the big dude? Yeah, I just let him go," said the young officer. "Um . . . Let me see if I can track him down."
The young officer, red-faced, then sprinted outside to try and find the suspect he'd just let go, but to no avail.
Schoenberg began to apologize and in subsequent phone calls with him, he remained apologetic. He told me that they have the suspect's info (which they wouldn't give me) and that it will go to prosecutors, who can put a warrant out for his arrest if they choose.
"I have to tell you, it will be up to prosecutors, and given that it happened at a bar, I wouldn't get your hopes up," he told me on Sunday.
It should be noted that Neumos staff was helpful and professional. Besides breaking up the fight in record speed (a fact that, at the time, I was rather disappointed by), head of security David Hughes gave me his card and told me to come back anytime with a guest for a fully-comped show. At no point did anyone there know that I work as a journalist or had any intention of writing about the incident.
Schoenberg, despite his blunt assessment that the guy may never be caught, was also professional in his handling of the other officer's incompetence, and has apologized on his own behalf several times.
But the fact remains that the officers had an assault suspect gift-wrapped with half a dozen witnesses who saw him assault someone, but still managed to let him walk away for no other reason that some officer didn't realize who he was.
It's certainly not the worst thing that Seattle cops have fucked up (see Williams, John T.), but it's nonetheless a first-hand example of why "doing the right thing" by turning a situation over the police is hardly a guarantee that some amount of justice will be served.