I've never had the occasion to go to Jack Magoo's Sports Bar and Grill and now I never will. Last week, bouncers at the Broad Avenue bistro physically removed a customer from the bar because they believed he was intoxicated and creating a disturbance. The police responded to the scene to find an injured man on the sidewalk bleeding from a wound in the head. When the police became aware of the cane by the man's side and his inability to speak, they suspected that this was more than just a drunk tossed out of a saloon.
In fact, the aggrieved customer was Brian Roper, 30-year veteran and retired captain of the Germantown Police Department, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2007, which left him crippled on his right side and without speech. Roper offered a card to the officers explaining that he suffers from aphasia, a lasting side effect of stroke caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls speech. Roper declined to be taken to a hospital, so the officers took him home.
That might have been the end of it had not someone brought the matter to the attention of WMC-TV Channel 5, which reported the story in its March 25th nightly newscast, when reporter Jason Miles interviewed Roper in his Midtown apartment. My wife and I cried when we saw the report. You see, Brian Roper is a friend of mine.
I have spent half my life in bars and have known some bad-ass bouncers in that time. But I never saw any of them rough up a disabled customer. Negative posts on Facebook and other social media erupted, and Jack Magoo's issued a statement on its Facebook page, stating, "A recent report by one individual on social media and subsequent local news reports of alleged aggressive behavior toward a disabled customer greatly disturbs us."
The bruises to Roper's arms, chest, and head, however, are not "alleged." The owner said that he was tardy in responding to the matter because he was on sequestered jury duty without telephone accessibility, and his partner did not wish to respond to the news reports until they had time to confer. The owner announced the hiring of an "outside company to conduct interviews of the employees allegedly involved" and said that a statement would have been more forthcoming if not for the collection and examination of video surveillance. "It takes time to review all the video," the explanation read, "but it is being looked at to ensure the truth is brought forth. And we seek the truth." The rest of the online proclamation was boilerplate legalese.
According to police reports, Roper took a cab to the Three Angels Diner on Broad Avenue on the night in question to have dinner and watch the Memphis Tigers' game. According to Roper, he had been served there before without incident. In a happy mood, Roper proceeded to Jack Magoo's to celebrate the Tigers' victory. When he got to the bar, according to Roper, his drink order was misunderstood, as were his fruitless protestations to the bartender. Assumed drunk, Roper was ordered to leave the bar. When Roper angrily responded by trying to communicate through his ever-present notepad, three employees allegedly forcibly removed him from the nightspot and threw him to the pavement outside. A follow-up report was made the next day, after Roper's friend and "interpreter," local musician Jim Spake, took him to the ER of Methodist North Hospital and called the police again to give a more detailed account of the incident, according to Roper. Officers Reinhardt and Norris took photos of the various scrapes and bruises on Roper's body before he was moved to the Intensive Care Unit, due to a small brain bleed. He was released from the hospital Sunday morning.
I'll admit my prejudice in being sympathetic to Brian Roper's side of things. Our friendship dates back to the early 1990s, when Roper, Spake, and I were all volunteer programmers on WEVL-FM90 and members of the same pub quiz team, which we named "Chest Pains." Roper's specialties were sports, military history, and great books, but there wasn't a single subject on which Brian did not possess some passing knowledge. He was a great wit and known to have a cocktail or three, although I never witnessed any aberrant behavior on his part. What made his stroke even sadder was that it deprived Brian of his ability to express himself. I was present in those early days of his recovery and saw his frustration over knowing what he wanted to say but being incapable of forming the words. Conversations with Brian became a guessing game akin to "you're getting warmer." To my shame, because it became uncomfortable for me, I allowed our friendship to slide. Spake, however, stood by his side through good times and bad and knows Brian so well that he can anticipate and "interpret" his speech patterns. Thus, Spake's insistence that an additional police report was necessary. I spoke with Spake, and he was firm in his defense of Roper. We agreed that even if Brian were knocked-out loaded, that would have been no excuse for throwing him in the street, and even the smallest examination would have revealed his disability.
Where I work, if I ever put my hands on a customer, I would be gone within the hour. That's because the owners emphasize customer service above all else, and this was made clear before I was employed. No business, bar or otherwise, allows their employees to physically eject a customer from the premises without the tacit approval of management. I was therefore not surprised that despite Jack Magoo's insistence that the bar "maintains the highest ethical standard," there was no expression of regret or attempt at apology in its online legal brief — only a promise of an internal investigation, then they'll get back to us. This delay has created turmoil among those who care about Roper, and a Facebook discussion of a musicians' boycott has already begun.
If I were advising the owners of Jack Magoo's, I would tell them that if you wish to salvage the reputation of your establishment you should immediately issue a public apology, announce that the employees who evicted Roper have been terminated, and promise that nothing like this will ever occur again. Then I would quietly offer some restitution to Roper personally to compensate for his injuries and public embarrassment. Brian Roper deserves better, and if Jack Magoo's doesn't act properly and soon, he just might get it.
Randy Haspel writes the "Born-Again Hippies" blog, where a version of this column first appeared.