Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Hit The Road: Joaquin Menchaca says 'the energy was off' in the always-genial Carry Nations bar late one night last year—just before a doorman threw a customer out on his head.
DA files felony charges in Los Gatos assault case
By Alastair Dallas
THERE was a weird vibe at the popular Los Gatos bar Carry Nations near midnight on Friday, July 20, 2007, according to Joaquin Menchaca. A resident of the nearby Almond Grove neighborhood, Menchaca didn't have to worry about driving after having a few drinks in town. He liked the regular crowd at Carry Nations—friendly, casual, diverse—and he enjoyed the conversation. But as Friday turned to Saturday morning, Menchaca says, "the energy was off." The two doormen—a big martial arts expert named Todd Labrie and another, smaller man with a shaved head—seemed edgy, rude. He recalls that a girl flirtatiously asked for a free drink just before closing time, and the smaller man loudly told her how to earn it.
At closing time, the two doormen, who seemed like buddies to Menchaca, began yelling and screaming at people, as if they needed to clear the bar quickly. It seemed to Menchaca that the doormen were creating a problem by yelling at the orderly, upper-middle-class patrons.
A mild-mannered, self-taught systems administrator, Menchaca decided to avoid the scene and let himself out the back. He circled the building and headed up North Santa Cruz Avenue, past the bar—just in time to see Mike Wranovics come flying out the front door.
Wranovics had had a couple of drinks at Carry Nations that evening, and he was saying goodbye to the waitress when, he says, doorman Labrie decided he wasn't leaving quickly enough. Wranovics says Labrie said, "You're outta here!" just before pushing him 10 feet to the door and flinging him backward onto the sidewalk. The back of Wranovics head began bleeding immediately.
"He went flying like a missile," says Menchaca, who didn't know Wranovics. Could he have tripped? "No way."
Someone called the police, who are usually downtown at 2am closing time.
Sgt. David Fishback was the supervisor that night. "The man was asked repeatedly to leave," Sgt. Fishback says. "He was intoxicated. He tripped and hit his head on the way out."
"The guy wouldn't leave the bar," says Daniel Jensen, Labrie's criminal attorney.
Police officer Mario Carrizosa and another officer took Wranovics up the street and called for an ambulance. Menchaca came forward right away to explain what he had witnessed. He says the two officers told him not to interfere.
"The officers knew Wranovics needed medical attention," Sgt. Fishback said. "They interviewed people after he left."
Menchaca says that when he persisted, asking the officers when the appropriate time for making a statement would be, they were hostile.
"You are interfering!" Menchaca says one officer yelled. "Leave now!" Menchaca says he was threatened with arrest if he stayed.
Meanwhile, Menchaca says, the doorman with the shaved head stood outside the bar, screaming at people to leave the area. He says the police officers were busy with Wranovics, but the bouncer was threatening to break people's necks if they didn't do as he said. It left Menchaca feeling "really disturbed," he says. He called 911, but then he saw Sgt. Fishback on the sidewalk in front of Mountain Charley's across the street. Fishback seemed to Menchaca to have no problem with the doorman's yelling and threats.
Wranovics was taken to the hospital and treated for a concussion. Doctors put three staples in his head. Wranovics returned to the emergency room twice in January complaining of dizziness, he says.
He says he was confused and angry as the police officers seemed to prevent him from talking to witnesses to the incident. He created a Yahoo! email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, to try to find people who saw what had happened.
Wranovics is a local man, but his cell phone is in the 415 area code, and he believes police treated him as an outsider, perhaps.
"It was all according to procedure," Sgt. Fishback says. "The officers told him if he wanted to pursue things to follow up with them the next day. It's all in the report."
Labrie's lawyer, Jensen, says Wranovics' injuries were "extremely consistent with my client's version of the story."
Menchaca filed a handwritten complaint with the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police the next day.
"I understand that officers put their lives on the line protecting the citizens," Menchaca says. He admires the police, but feels that corrective measures are necessary. Bar owners that hire thugs for crowd control, he says, should be held accountable.
"I'd be satisfied if the chief talked to the officers," Menchaca says he told police.
Wranovics eventually learned that Menchaca had come forward as a witness. He filed a civil suit Dec. 18 against Nabrik Inc., the owner of Carry Nations, and against Labrie.
Charles Redfield of Low, Ball & Lynch of San Francisco is representing the bar owners. "Nabrik Inc. has denied liability, and we hope that Todd Labrie is found not guilty in the pending criminal matter," he says.
After reviewing the evidence in the case, the Santa Clara County district attorney's office filed misdemeanor assault charges against Labrie.
Deputy District Attorney Jeena Jiampetti amended the charges to felony battery when she learned, from Wranovics' attorney, that he had suffered a concussion. Labrie was arraigned April 3.
Daniel Jensen, Labrie's criminal attorney, dismisses the notion that the DA's decision lends credence to Wranovics' version of events. "The criminal charges support the civil case," Jensen observes, saying that it's typical in a personal injury case for battery charges to be brought, to convince a civil jury to award monetary damages.
Labrie, 38, declined to be interviewed for this article. A large, solid man apparently possessed of a profound serenity, he has appeared in criminal court twice wearing loose clothes and open sandals. According to his website, he has been a martial arts enthusiast since he was 8 years old. He studied Tae Kwon Do at Norwich University, and is currently a fourth-degree black belt, and holds the title of "sensei" at Brass Man, a San Jose training facility, where he teaches kitsune ryu bujitsu.
"After graduating college, I saw this demonstration of jujitsu/aikido and I was amazed!" Labrie wrote on his website. "I saw this old man throwing large guys around by their fingers, sleeves, arms, and everything else. It looked effortless. I was hooked."
Jensen, Labrie's attorney, says a doorman is allowed to use reasonable force, even if he is a martial arts instructor. "A prizefighter doesn't have a right to defend himself?" Jensen asks.
A preliminary hearing on the criminal matter has been set for July 22, a year after the original incident.
Asked about his defense strategy, Jensen—a former police officer—chuckles as if to say, "that's easy."
"He didn't do anything wrong," Jensen says.
On April 3, Joaquin Menchaca received a letter from Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Capt. David Gravel informing him that the internal investigation was over and that unspecified "formal action" had "already been taken." Menchaca's original handwritten complaint was enclosed with the letter.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.