Conch House brawl brings safety, legal issues

2 hospitalized after brawl breaks out

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Video of Conch House security personnel breaking up a brawl during a Reggae Sunday is being used by St. Augustine investigators to determine if the bouncers went beyond protecting themselves and other patrons. 

Tuesday morning, 911 calls released from the incident reported hundreds of people fighting and at least one man was unconscious and bleeding after being subdued by restaurant personnel.

"There's (expletive) people everywhere right now," the caller said. "Please come here right now."

The St. Augustine Police Department confirmed in its report on the fight that several witnesses saw a man, lying unconscious with security guards in orange shirts kicking him in the head. They also said the guards threw the man into the water, still unconscious.

Police are looking at the possibility of charges against the security officers.

"Absolutely. Investigators were over (there Tuesday), looking at video, talking with the owner. Not sure where it stands, but we're investigating all those avenues," said Mark Samson, with the St. Augustine Police Department.  

In another call, someone who appeared to be an employee reported patrons were fighting with each other and restaurant security personnel.

AUDIO: 911 callers report multiple fights going on

The Conch House would not comment on the incident Monday or Tuesday.

Local attorney Gene Nichols said that while security guards or bouncers do have the right to protect themselves and others, once that threat is over, any continued aggression by the security guards runs the risk of being considered committing battery on someone.

"The security guards have the opportunity to protect themselves, and other individuals the same way every individual does, whether you're a security guard or not. There is certain force that we can all use according to the law to protect ourselves or others," Nichols said. "There's a difference between removing somebody by getting them out and physically beating them. It's a difficult line, it's going to be a difficult line for prosecutors, for defense lawyers, and civil lawyers to run across in a case like this, but typically you know, or you don't."

Nichols did say that from what he saw, the situation was completely out of control and he questions the training of the security, saying that if the Conch House hired them, it is responsible for proper training and supervision.

"It's mass chaos with the patrons, and it's mass chaos with the employees," Nichols said. "There are people who are being struck and shoved and hurt who have nothing to do with those fights. That's the first thing I see." 

The St. Augustine police released the aggravated battery incident report Tuesday listing four victims, two of whom were transported to Flagler Hospital for treatment.

The report said the incident started as a fight between two women, and when several people came to the aid of one of the woman, several patrons said security personnel attacked them.

Officers wrote that victim Russell Rogatenko told them, "He was trying to help his girlfriend when he was beat up by security. Rogatenko sustained a fractured nose as a result of the altercation and additional fractures were pending at the time this report was completed. Rogatenko does not know the person who struck him, because there were several of them, but stated they were all wearing bright orange shirts and were a part of security."

The report quoted two witnesses who saw security employees kicking a man who was unconscious on the ground, then thew the man in the water. Another man claimed he was thrown to the ground, punched and choked by security personnel. Another man told officers he was assaulted, because he was videotaping the incident.

There were no arrests.

Two years ago, former Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew was accused of punching a security guard during a Conch House brawl. No charges were ever filed, but a lawsuit filed against Jones-Drew by one of the restaurant's bouncers has not been resolved.

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.