Crime

Parking lot brawl outside Columbus bar turned deadly. Is bouncer to blame?

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The two warring parties that spilled from Outlaws Saloon numbered from 30 to 50, when they started fighting in the parking lot off Veterans Parkway around 3 a.m. Jan. 31, 2016, said attorneys in the involuntary manslaughter trial of James Perkins.

Perkins was among six nightclub bouncers who rushed out to stop the fight. He’s accused of hitting bar patron Marquis Brown so hard that Brown was thrown backward, his head hitting the pavement, causing a fatal brain injury.

A jury will decide whether Perkins acted reasonably under the circumstances or recklessly caused Brown’s death.

Attorneys in opening statements Wednesday called the chaotic brawl that erupted outside the bar an “affray” or “melee” involving dozens of people, some intoxicated, in a chaotic mass.

“Some are going to tell you it was more people than they’d ever seen in a fight before,” said defense attorney Barry Debrow, who with Jennifer Curry represents Perkins.

What a bouncer said happened

The dispute began between two women inside the bar but spread as the men with them got involved, said Shawn Capps, a bouncer who worked with Perkins.

When employees saw the two groups were about to come to blows, they ordered those involved to leave, and told the club disc jockey to announce the last call for drinks, Capps said.

Capps was at the front of the business as the patrons walked out.

“They were pretty irate, drunk, screaming at each other,” he said, and that continued outside. “They were still yelling across the parking lot at each other…. You could tell they were fixing to flat-out fight.”

Things got physical after a woman was hit by a man after she spit in his face, prompting her friends to attack the man, Capps said.

Perkins was pulling the woman away when Brown jumped him from behind, prompting Perkins first to duck and then rear back, swinging his arm backward in a wide sweeping motion, Capps said.

That caused Brown to topple backward, the witness said.

Bouncer’s account disputed

When the back of Brown’s head hit the pavement, the shock to his brain caused fatal bleeding, said a medical examiner, who testified Brown had a blood-alcohol content of .182.

Capps’ account was disputed by another witness, Ashia Johnson, a friend of Brown’s who said the bouncer who attacked Brown did so without provocation.

“He ran up to him and hit him,” she said, and then the bouncer ran off, leaving Brown dying on the ground.

She said the bouncer punched Brown so hard in the face that it knocked him out.

Johnson said Brown fell near the front entrance to the bar. Her recollection was contradicted by a police officer who testified Brown was found up to 50 yards away, in front of a Rooms To Go store at the far end of the strip shopping mall.

That Perkins intervened in a brawl so far from where he worked was a point prosecutor Wesley Lambertus emphasized in his opening statement: When Perkins hit Brown, the bouncer was acting beyond the scope of his responsibility, in front of another business.

In striking Brown, Perkins committed the misdemeanor offense of simple battery, which caused Browns death, the basis for the involuntary manslaughter charge.

Attorney: Bouncers wanted to ‘de-escalate’

Debrow said Perkins had no intention of killing Brown, and was just trying to fulfill his duty as a security guard: Because of his job, Perkins was obligated to protect the bar’s patrons, including those uninvolved in the melee, who needed to get to their cars.

Capps testified that ensuring customers weren’t robbed or assaulted in the parking lot as they left the bar was considered part of his job.

Debrow said Perkins and five other bouncers didn’t leave the bar to join in the brawl, but to “disperse and de-escalate” it and ensure their customers got home safely.

Brown’s death caused controversy in 2016 when police made no arrest for a month. Brown’s family sought a second autopsy and consulted an attorney, who said findings from the second medical examination were more consistent with Brown’s having been hit with a flashlight, not falling onto a flat, hard surface.

Police issued a warrant for Perkins’ arrest in late February 2016, when he was jailed on a contempt charge in another county. He was booked into the Muscogee County Jail the following March 13.

Perkins, who was 48 in 2016, is now 51. His trial resumes Friday in Judge Arthur Smith III’s Government Center courtroom.

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