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Worst Case Scenario

Witness alleges police inaction in Oasis fatality

By Laura Stuchinsky

TROUBLEMAKERS TEND TO WILT under the glare of a uniformed police officer, but are likely to shrug off the reprimand of a security guard. That's the argument of a majority of San Jose's nightclub owners, who, despite the concerns raised by the police auditor, want to continue hiring off-duty police in uniform to stand watch in front of their clubs.

But having officers guard the fort is no guarantee of safety, as was demonstrated earlier this year when 21-year-old Jason Scott Cooper died outside a San Jose nightclub following a brawl while eight off-duty officers were stationed outside.

The evening of Feb. 22, Executive Entertainment produced its regular Thursday night hip-hop event at the Oasis in downtown San Jose. According to witness Cordell Johnson, a San Jose City College administration of justice major, a fight broke out inside the packed club around 1:40am and the victim was knocked unconscious.

Johnson, trained as a combat lifesaver, claims he saw one club-goer stomp on Cooper a few times before another patron, who later identified himself as a reserve medic, carried Cooper outside. The two men and a third, a paramedic, were concerned about Cooper's condition and Johnson left to summon police security guards for help.

Johnson, who criticized the police's handling of the incident in an article published in San Jose State University's Spartan Daily, says he ran to the front of the building, where the off-duty officers brushed him off.

Johnson says the officers told him they were busy with other things going on at the club and that if the victim was breathing, he was okay. Finally, Johnson says, he convinced several officers to accompany him to the side of the building where Cooper was lying.

"We strolled to the other side of the building," says an agitated Johnson. "I mean, we took our time."

As they approached, Johnson says, bystanders were turning their heads away in disgust, as an unidentified patron was kicking the still-unconscious Copper in the head. Johnson says he grabbed the arm of the officer nearest him and pushed him to jump in. The angry officer elbowed Johnson aside, he says, and shooed the man off Cooper.

Johnson says other witnesses later told him that before he and the officers arrived, another man had been jumping on Cooper's chest. The county coroner later determined that Cooper died of heart injuries caused by trauma to his chest.

In Johnson's opinion, the blows Cooper received outside of the club killed him.

"It's very unfair for someone to make that kind of statement who does not know all the facts," counters SJPD spokesperson Louis Quezada, who declined to elaborate, saying that it might jeopardize the department's homicide investigation.

"To get into finger-pointing and to say the police are responsible for it is very unfair, not only to the victim, but to the entire investigation and the victim's family. We have been working very closely with this family and have their utmost support in this investigation," Quezada added.

Cooper's family has hired a private attorney and is conducting its own investigation into the incident, although it's not clear as yet who will be named if a lawsuit is filed.

"I want to hold everyone involved in my son's death accountable," says Cooper's mother, Mary Ann Starks. "My son never had a fight in his life. He was never a violent person."

The SJPD has asked anyone who witnessed the incident to call the department at 277-5283.

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From the May 2-8, 1996 issue of Metro

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