I have spent half my life in bars and have known some bad-ass bouncers in that time. But I never saw any of them- not Skip Ousley, Campbell Kinsinger, Mac Thompson, or Rusty Neel- rough up a disabled customer. After an explosion on Facebook and other social media, Jack Magoo's issued a statement on their Facebook page through one of the unidentified co-owners, either Bryan Plunk or Jim Shannon, stating, "A recent report by one individual on social media and subsequent local news reports of alleged aggressive behavior toward a disabled customer greatly disturbs us." The bruises to both Mr. Roper's arms, chest, and head, however, are certainly not "alleged." The dissembling owner continued to say that he was tardy in responding to the matter because he was on sequestered jury duty without telephone accessibility, and his partner did not wish to respond to the news reports until they had time to confer. This is the grown-up equivalent of a doctor's note, exempting a student from Phys Ed. The owner continued, announcing the hiring of an "outside company to conduct interviews of the employees allegedly involved," and said that a statement would have been more forthcoming if not for the collection and examination of video surveillance. "It takes time to review all the video," the explanation read, "but it is being looked at to ensure the truth is brought forth. And we seek the truth." The rest of the online proclamation was enough boilerplate legalese to make Cory B. Trotz throw up. I don't know what the delay is. I got the story in one phone call.
According to police reports, Mr. Roper took a cab to the Three Angels Diner on Broad Avenue the night of March 14 to have dinner and watch the Memphis Tigers' game. According to Roper, he had been served there before without incident. In a happy mood, Roper proceeded to Jack Magoo's to celebrate the Tigers' victory in a boisterous sports bar atmosphere. When he got to the bar, Roper's drink order was misunderstood, as were his fruitless protestations to the bartender. Assumed drunk, Roper was ordered to leave the bar. When Roper angrily responded by trying to communicate through his ever-present notepad, three employees forcibly removed him from the nightspot and threw him to the pavement outside. A follow-up report was made the next day after Roper's friend and "interpreter," local musician Jim Spake, took him to the ER of Methodist North Hospital and re-called the police to give a more accurate account of the incident according to Roper. Officers Reinhardt and Norris took photos of the various scrapes and bruises on Roper's body before he was moved to the Intensive Care Unit due to a small brain bleed. He was released from the hospital Sunday morning.
I'll admit my prejudice in being sympathetic to Brian Roper's side of things. Our friendship dates back to the early 90s when Roper, Jim Spake and I were all volunteer programmers on WEVL-FM90, and members of the same pub quiz team which we named "Chest Pains." Roper's specialties were sports, military history, and great books, but there wasn't a single subject of which Brian did not possess some passing knowledge. He was a great wit and known to have a cocktail or three, although I never witnessed any aberrant behavior on his part. What made his stroke even more saddening was that it deprived Brian of his ability to express himself. I was present in those early days of his recovery and saw his frustration over knowing what he wanted to say, but being incapable of forming the words. Conversations with Brian became a guessing game akin to "you're getting warmer," and were difficult to conduct. To my shame, because it became uncomfortable for me, I allowed our friendship to slide, ceasing regular contact with Brian and moving on. Jim Spake, however, stood by his side through good times and bad, and knows Brian so well that he can anticipate, understand, and "interpret" Brian's speech patterns. Thus, Spake's insistence that an additional police report was necessary. I spoke with Spake before his gig with Lucero in Pawtuckett, Rhode Island, and he was firm in his defense of Roper. We agreed that even if Brian were knocked-out loaded, that would have been no excuse for throwing him in the street, and even the smallest amount of examination would have revealed his disability.
I know that where I work, if I ever put my hands on a customer, I would be gone within the hour. That's because the owners emphasize customer service above all else and this was made clear to me before I was employed. No business, bar or otherwise, allows their employees to physically eject a customer from the premises without the tacit approval of management. I was therefore not surprised that despite Jack Magoo's insistence that the bar "maintains the highest ethical standard," there was no expression of regret or attempt at apology in their online legal brief- only a promise of an internal investigation, then they'll get back to us. This delay has created turmoil among those who care about Roper, and a Facebook discussion of a musicians' boycott has already begun. If I were advising the owners of Jack Magoo's, I would tell them that if you wish to salvage the reputation of your establishment you should immediately issue a public apology, announce that the thugs that abused Roper have been terminated, and promise that nothing like this will ever occur again. Then I would quietly offer some restitution to Roper personally to compensate for his injuries and public embarrassment. So far, it's business as usual, and a glance at Jack Magoo's Facebook page trumpets "60 cent wings and $3.50 Margaritas," to which one commenter replied, "If I come, please don't dump me out of my wheelchair." Brian Roper deserves better, and if Jack Magoo's doesn't act properly and soon, he just might get it.