Wednesday, April 2, 2008
How secure is Dallas nightclub Station 4?
Security--be it perceived or real--is a sensitive issue for club owners and patrons alike.
First reported by the Dallas Voice in an article published February 29th, the evolving accusations of a single man against a corporation that holds a financially valuable and politically influential strip of land here continues to develop, as owners of the popular gay nightclub Station 4 continue to deny claims made by Sid Gonzales that he was assaulted near the dance floor.
Mr. Gonzales admitted to being under the influence of alcohol--"buzzed," as he told The Voice--when he reportedly approached two young men and a woman and attempted to make conversation; When he reached out to offer a handshake, he stated that his wrist was twisted, broken and stabbed with an unknown object, and kicked or otherwise struck on his back, leaving bruises.
Mr. Gonzales said he then notified bar staff and front desk personnel, but left the club after he was unable to locate security. Despite admitting to being slightly affected by alcohol consumption, and his serious allegations of aggravated assault, Mr. Gonzales did not seek medical attention until the next morning, when he awoke to swelling and pain in his wrist. He filed a report with the Dallas Police Department, claiming the assault was a hate crime.
In an initial response to The Voice regarding the incident, Rick Espaillat, a spokesperson for Caven Enterprises, the parent company of Station 4, stated Mr. Gonzales was unable to locate security because staff were responding to other incidents -- which occurred at the same time involving "the same suspects."
Later Mr. Espaillat, in another article published by The Voice, vehemently denied the assault occurred at all, despite an earlier statement in which he said that the three suspects allegedly involved were evicted from the club by security.
A police investigator assigned to the case stated that he has found no evidence to corroborate Mr. Gonzales' claims after interviewing club staff and management, but had not viewed any security video surveillance tapes from the night of the incident.
Defending accusations that his claims are without merit and, according to Caven Enterprises "an insult to the integrity of our organization," Mr. Gonzales told The Voice he has been a patron at Station 4 for "over twenty years," and had nothing to gain by making false statements to the police about an attack.
Mr. Espaillat and corporate representatives from Caven Enterprises have been reluctant to respond to media inquiries and disclose any information regarding the video surveillance footage.
A recent visit to Station 4 between the hours of approximately 10:00 p.m. and midnight on a Friday night found a lively club with a mixed crowd of assorted ages and ethnic backgrounds. Scores of people crowded the dance floor lit by swirling lights, strobes, contrasted with periods of darkness between songs--making it difficult to see the premises clearly.
Despite a thorough, constant patrol of the club's upper level, which overlooks the main dance floor, several sweeps on the main dance floor, and visual observations of the patio and billiard areas, only one security officer was noticed: seen from the outdoor balcony on the street entrance below, casually leaning against a tree while apparently talking on his cell phone.
An investigation of known incident reports filed with the Dallas Police Department from March 2007 to the present day found over a dozen incidents associated with Station 4, ranging from stolen purses, wallets, a person struck by a motor vehicle in front of the club, vandalized cars and robbery to a man who was wounded by a box cutter in front of the club premises. The number of similar incidents that occur but go unreported is unknown.
An analysis of known calls made to the 911 emergency dispatch center found that in the same period of time, almost 40 calls were made from or in reference to Station 4; Twelve of those calls were initiated from Station 4 staff, security, or management.
Security--be it perceived or real--is a sensitive issue for club owners and patrons alike; one incident can cripple a venue's reputation, sending people--and their money--elsewhere.
Club management and public relations personnel are particularly sensitive to inquiries from the media, well aware of sensationalism many press outlets seek to seize. Caven Enterprises did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment regarding the incident reports and 911 calls.
The Lizard Lounge, which features similar dance areas, was among a handful of similar nightclubs that also did not return calls seeking comment regarding their safety precautions and records.
A visit to The Lizard lounge revealed strict scrutiny of identification (on most nights, the club is open to persons 18 years of age or older) and several heavily built bouncers keeping watch over the main dance floor and areas above. Patrons interviewed claimed exterior and interior police presence on some nights (police were not present on the date of an investigative visit.)
Public records indicate that Lizard Lounge, while larger and arguably more frequented, has approximately the same number of police reports filed as Station 4 in the past year, though none were of a violent nature. A majority of the reports involved theft from vehicles in a parking lot or on the street near Lizard Lounge premises.
An analysis of known calls made to the 911 emergency dispatch center regarding The Lizard Lounge yielded a total of 26 calls; Only three were initiated by Lizard Lounge staff.
The perception of being in a safe environment is not influenced solely by a heavily visible security presence. Instead, a combination of word-of-mouth chatter, internet banter, appearance, and advertisement influence where many go for a night out on the town, regardless of their sexuality.
Many patrons interviewed within Station 4, who said they had heard of the assault claims made by Mr. Gonzales, said they felt staff did a proper job keeping the club safe, and were unsure of whether Mr. Gonzales was injured at Station 4.
"I wasn't there, so how should I know?," quipped one.
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