Ethnic intimidation case dropped

No trial for Raleigh bar manager, and no explanation given

ablythe@!newsobserver.comOctober 1, 2012 

— Prosecutors on Monday dismissed an ethnic intimidation and assault case lodged against a Raleigh bar manager by a young black man who complained he was thrown out of the business because of his race.

Jonathan Wall, now 22 and a graduate student at Harvard University, went to a magistrate in June and obtained a criminal summons against Todd Chriscoe, 46, a manager of The Downtown Sports Bar and Grill on Glenwood Avenue.

The case went before Wake County District Court Judge Michael J. Denning on Monday afternoon. Chriscoe, who is white, and Wall were there.

Their lawyers went behind closed doors with Rashad Hauter, the assistant district attorney, before the court session began and emerged with news that there would be no trial.

A case that caught fire on social media websites died months later with only a flicker of public understanding about what transpired between the two men on June 17.

Lawyers for each side described the incident and fallout afterward as a learning experience that had been beneficial to the entire community.

But neither side offered specifics of how the case was resolved without a trial and no public presentation of a surveillance video from the bar that may have clarified the conflicting versions of what happened.

Geoff Simmons, the Raleigh attorney representing Wall, invoked the names of two civil rights leaders – the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks – when speaking about his client.

“When you feel there’s an injustice you have to stand up,” Simmons said. “What he did was stand up.”

Wall initially turned to a friend and blogger to offer his account of that June night at The Downtown Sports Bar and Grill when he thought he was being ejected because of his race.

Wall was inside the club when the bar manager told him he would either have to buy a drink or leave. Wall said when he tried to relay the message that he was waiting for a friend who had gone to the restroom, the manager grabbed his wrists, put them behind his head and forced him out of the bar.

Chriscoe has said that race was not a factor in ejecting Wall from the club; the action was taken because he was not a member and not buying food or drinks.

But before Chriscoe put his account out in public, Wall’s friend had posted the story on the Internet and it quickly drew nearly 200 responses – many of them with similar accounts of racial discrimination on the Glenwood South strip.

A Facebook page created several days later on Wall’s behalf had drawn more than 4,300 posts criticizing the incident. More than 500 people flooded the sports bar’s own page, most of them expressing outrage.

The bar saw a drop in business after the incident, Chriscoe said.

Manager’s view

In a telephone interview after the court proceeding, Chriscoe said Wall was asked to leave because the bar was at capacity and he had not purchased anything. Chriscoe said Wall said profanities as he walked him up the stairs to the street level with his hands behind his head. Four police officers, according to Chriscoe, were outside the bar when he left Wall on the street.

“We kick people – black and white – out of there all of the time for various reasons,” Chriscoe said. “I’ve been in the bar business a long time and have had to make a lot of unfavorable decisions.”

Chriscoe said that though he believed the video would back his account, he still had regrets about the incident.

“You always wish things had turned out different,” Chriscoe said. “You never want anyone to feel slighted.”

Bill Young, the Raleigh attorney representing Chriscoe, said discussions between the parties over the past weeks and months yielded agreement on one aspect: “I think everyone ultimately agrees there could have been some confusion,” Young said. “When you have two people coming to one situation from different life experiences, often there can be disagreements about what really happened. ...The bottom line is everyone agrees there is room for some disagreement.”

But Young, who viewed the bar’s tape, rejected Wall’s characterizations that Chriscoe put him in a headlock.

“This courtroom is all about people coming together and talking about their differences,” Young said after the case was dismissed. “There was a discussion and ultimately it was concluded that this matter didn’t belong in criminal court.”

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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