Crime

Columbus jury reaches verdict in ex-bar bouncer’s manslaughter trial

Attorneys react to acquittal of ex-bouncer charged with manslaughter in bar brawl

A jury found James Eric Perkins not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a customer fatally injured during a brawl outside Outlaws Saloon in north Columbus. The jury deliberated less than an hour before announcing the verdict Friday.
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A jury found James Eric Perkins not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a customer fatally injured during a brawl outside Outlaws Saloon in north Columbus. The jury deliberated less than an hour before announcing the verdict Friday.

James Eric Perkins wiped away tears Friday after a jury found him not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a customer fatally injured during a brawl outside Outlaws Saloon in north Columbus.

The jury of eight men and four women deliberated less than an hour before announcing the verdict about 2:30 p.m., acquitting Perkins in the Jan. 31, 2016, death of Marquis Brown, 23.

Perkins, then 48, was working as a bouncer at the 6499 Veterans Parkway bar when two women in the business got into a dispute, and the men who were with them joined in the conflict, witnesses said. All were ordered to leave, and resumed the altercation in the parking lot.

Among the 30 to 50 people taunting each other outside was a woman who spit in a man’s face, provoking him to punch her. That prompted guys on the woman’s side to attack the man. Perkins was trying to pull the woman away when Brown, a friend of hers, came at him from behind, according to Perkins and a second bouncer.

Perkins reportedly swung an arm back and backhanded Brown, causing him to fall backward and hit his head on the pavement, resulting in fatal bleeding in his brain. He died later in the hospital.

An autopsy showed Brown had a blood-alcohol content of .182, though witnesses said he did not appear intoxicated.

A crucial issue in the case was whether Perkins, as a security guard, acted reasonably and within the scope of his authority when he hit Brown outside the bar.

The arguments

Prosecutor Wesley Lambertus argued Perkins was yards away from his place of employment, having crossed to the parking lot of a Rooms to Go store on the far end of the strip shopping mall.

“If this was inside Outlaws, he would have authority,” Lambertus said Friday in his closing argument. “Outlaws does not own this parking lot…. He’s only a security officer inside Outlaws.”

Once Perkins and five other bouncers left the bar and ventured into another business’ parking area, they had no more authority than anyone else there, the prosecutor added: “These bouncers are way outside their authority … so these bouncers, they’re doing nothing more than joining the fight. That’s all they’re doing.”

They should have called the police, and Perkins should have remained inside the bar, Lambertus said: “If he had stayed in the background and not done anything, Mr. Brown would still be alive today.”

Lambertus disputed that Perkins hit Brown with just an errant, backhanded swing, as the results would indicate he used more force. “Is a mere push going to be enough to push Marquis Brown so hard he falls backward?” Lambertus asked jurors. “He was knocked unconscious, ladies and gentlemen. Nothing breaks his fall.”

Defense attorney Jennifer Curry countered that Brown’s level of intoxication would have impaired his balance, causing him to fall more easily when Perkins struck him. She noted also that the parking lot is on a slope, not flat and level. “It wouldn’t have to be excessive force,” she said of Perkins’ hitting Brown.

She argued also that because of his position, Perkins had the authority to break up a fight involving patrons of the bar where he worked. All the bouncers were supposed to ensure customers safely left the business and got to their cars, she said.

Perkins “acted as a reasonable person would under lawful circumstances,” she said, and the amount of force he used is “lawful when it’s justified and reasonable under these circumstances.”

The reaction

After the verdict, Brown’s family left the courtroom disappointed and distraught. “It feels like we lost him twice,” one woman sobbed.

Curry said later that Perkins after 30 years in the business stopped working security, in 2016. The case has been a burden to him since: He got death threats while free on bond awaiting trial, and still gets them, she said.

Perkins has children around Brown’s age, and having been involved in the death of someone that young weighed on him, she said.

The verdict likely will be reassuring to others who work security at nightclubs, and would have questioned their authority to break up fights outside, in light of Perkins’ arrest, she said.

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