The trial of Rumrunners Old Towne Bar and Grill -- a downtown Anchorage establishment that closed a year ago after multiple allegations of assault and more liquor law violations than any other bar in Alaska -- and a former bouncer was set to begin Thursday, but potential new evidence postponed proceedings in the two-year-old case until Monday.
Assistant Attorney General James Fayette said Anchorage police detective Mark Thomas sent an email Thursday morning informing him the Anchorage Police Department had made a copy of Rumrunners' hard drive, which officers seized a day after an alleged assault on a customer at the bar.
Both parties believed the police had failed to make a copy of the bar's hard drive over the two days it was in APD's possession, after which the owners demanded the equipment be returned so they could run their business. The defense attorney argues his clients never got the hard drive back.
Thomas reportedly testified before a grand jury that he spotted files in the computer's recycling bin consistent with the security software Rumrunners used to record its business.
Police were able to seize video footage on the computer showing alleged victim Jonny Brown detained in Rumrunners' basement.
According to an affidavit filed in October 2012, Officer Jennifer Haywood, who helped conduct a follow-up investigation, played excerpts of the seized footage to the grand jury. Haywood noted it was "odd" that one of the cameras went blank for six seconds while another kept working.
The allegedly tossed files may give Fayette the opportunity to argue the bar's management altered or threw out unflattering footage, strengthening the state's case. As it stands, circumstantial evidence already suggests something fishy occurred.
AB&M Enterprises Inc., the corporation behind the now-defunct bar, faces charges of assault, falsifying business records and tampering.
Fayette offered to start the trial despite the fact that if the trial derails for the state, it will be near impossible to retry the defendants. Kevin Fitzgerald, the attorney for AB&M, could have agreed to begin the trial, but he would've faced the possibility of new evidence unprepared.
"It comes down to -- gentlemen, are you feeling lucky?" Superior Court Judge Michael Spaan said.
Bar patron severely beaten
On Oct. 23, 2011, 26-year-old Jonny Brown was at Rumrunners with some friends, blowing off steam as he went through a rough divorce. But he ended up running into his wife at the bar and got in an argument with one of her friends.
Security grabbed Brown and dragged him outside the bar, which was located at the corner of Fourth Avenue and E Street among an eclectic selection of downtown watering holes. (The space is slated to become a Hard Rock Café later this year.)
Brown said a guard ended up "choking me to where I'm almost unconscious … and then (threw) me down on the concrete face first," Brown told the grand jury. He said he didn't know what would happen next and punched a security guard in the face, which prompted a group of them to force Brown to the ground and handcuff him. He was taken back inside the bar, the affidavit says. The next thing Brown remembers, he testified, he was sitting in a chair with hands behind his back, being repeatedly hit in the face.
APD got to Rumrunners around 1:45 a.m. They went downstairs to a security office and found Brown handcuffed in a chair with severe facial injuries, the affidavit says. Brown suffered skull and facial fractures.
It was initially reported and the state argued Brown had taken a beating in the downstairs office. Now, the state argues the beating took place in an elevator. The brief cut-out of surveillance simply shows Brown being escorted into the office, but before a good shot of his face appears on screen, the footage stops and picks up when he's sitting across the room, out of view, Fayette said.
In March 2012, security guard Murville Lampkin and AB&M were indicted on assault charges. The corporation was also charged with allegedly destroying the video evidence. Lampkin was one of the employees who allegedly beat Brown severely.
Rumrunners hired Lampkin and put him in a position of authority despite a lengthy criminal record. The 41-year-old is a three-time felon. He's spent many years of his adult life behind bars thanks to various crimes, including vehicle theft and drug trafficking. His rap sheet includes multiple minor crimes, too.
Businesses in Alaska are not required to run criminal background checks on bouncers.
A wishful promise of evidence
Lampkin, wearing a purple button-up, sat next to his defense attorney. The two were closest to the podium. Much of the argument between parties on Thursday dealt with the recently discovered hard drive copy, but Lampkin's attorney asked that he be allowed to see any new evidence, as required under Alaska law.
Fitzgerald and two men, including former Rumrunners owner Basilio Gallo, sat at the far end of the defense table. Gallo sits on the board of Anchorage CHARR -- Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association.
The defense attorney, who previously represented convicted-then-freed alleged murderer Mechele Linehan, argued to dismiss the charges stemming from the alleged deletion or manipulation of the video footage, stating there was no evidence to support them.
He said Thomas, the police detective, told the grand jury the 1.5 gigabytes of deleted data could not be the missing six-second snippets.
"I don't think it's fair to the defense that on a wishful promise there may be evidence to support (the state's) charges," Fitzgerald said. He could claim a discovery violation, as the state's required to tell the defense about any evidence 45 days before trial.
What the state left out, he added, is that the footage went blank multiple times, including when the officers were in Rumrunners' basement office.
The significance of the files is that they were placed in the computer's recycling bin a day after the alleged assault, Fayette said.
"I don't know what the hard drive copy will show," he said after the Thursday hearing. "All I know is something like that just doesn't happen. What we found out this morning is the police did make a copy of the drive, and that's really frustrating to be learning after two years. Frustration doesn't begin to describe it."