Police investigate Conch House brawl; 4 bouncers face charges
Viral video shows bouncers punching, kicking patrons during fight
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – After a massive brawl broke out at the Conch House Restaurant and Bar during a Reggae Sunday event on Memorial Day weekend, the St Augustine Police Department said four bouncers will soon face charges.
Police said several customers were hospitalized after the fight with serious injuries. After watching the videos of the brawl and talking to victims, police identified the four suspects and have recommended that simple battery charges be filed against them by the State Attorney's Office.
Police said they have five victims on whose stories the charges against those four bouncers are based. Officials said that there are others that could face charges in the future, but only if more witnesses or victims come forward.
According to police reports, charging affidavits for the four bouncers involved in the brawl were sent to the State Attorney's Office. Those bouncers are Ramel Dixon, 36, of Jacksonville; Adam Frez, 31, of St. Augustine; Michael McClendon, 28, of Atlantic Beach; and Chris Rivera Hernandez, 31, of Jacksonville.
According to the documents, Rivera Hernandez took down Bruno Abreu, causing him to hit his head on the dock, then kicked and punched Abreu. Dixon is charged with kneeing victim Sean Voss in the face. Investigators said Frez punched two victims, Dennis Justice and Russel Rogatenko. The documents say McClendon also kicked Justice while he was unconscious.
"Fortunately, patience was a virtue in this case. Like it always is at the Conch House, there were a lot of people that enjoyed that Sunday afternoon over there. It just took time to run it all down and get the statements we needed, and the victims and witnesses lined up so that we can do our job," Mark Samson of the St. Augustine Police Department said.
The police department also wouldn't identify which bouncers in the videos are the ones who will be charged.
After a short hiatus during the investigation, the Conch House is bringing back its Reggae Sunday event, but with changes to improve safety for patrons.
The mayor of St Augustine, Nancy Shaver, said that despite the Conch House's desires to resume Reggae Sunday starting this Sunday, she said it might not be a very easy process for them. She said there is a long list of things that the restaurant must do to satisfy what the city commission has laid out for them as it relates to resuming Reggae Sunday. She said that process is ongoing, and very fluid between the owner and the city manager.
"What a horrible, horrible, horrible thing to have happen. It just takes you aback. For me, as mayor of this city, to have this happen in this city is something that really hits you very viscerally," Shaver said. "But if there is one thing this city does well, it is pull together. This isn't the oldest city just because it is 450 years old, but because it is a real community."
St. Augustine City Manager John Regan said Monday night that the owner is hiring a security firm, limiting maximum capacity of customers to 1,075, about half or a third of the number of people who were there during the Memorial Day brawl.
The Police Department said they will have more officers in the area to make sure things stay under control.
"They will be in the area just dedicated to the Conch House. Some of them are being paid by the Conch House, I'm not sure exactly what that per officer breakdown is, but I know he is footing the bill for some of that," Samson said.
Shaver said that officials have talked to and listened to people who live near the Conch House about their concerns over the atmosphere in the neighborhood during Reggae Sunday events. She said that part of what they have learned from those people the city is using in their plans for keeping the place safe.
"There's a lot of moving parts. There's a fire marshal, there's police, there is the issue of parking. You've got all of those, but they are all aimed at making it a safe environment for people. We certainly don't want a repeat of what happened Memorial Day," Shaver said.
Samson said that now that the charges have been filed, it will be up to the State Attorney's Office to determine whether or not arrest warrants will be issued. Samson also has a tip for people who may go to the Conch House for Reggae Sunday in the future.
"Have a drink, a glass of water, whatever it is that helps you to stretch that hour out that you need between time of drinks. We want you to enjoy yourself, but we don't want your enjoyment to bleed over into someone else's enjoyment," Samson said.
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