Last month's 50th anniversary celebration for Tootsie's Orchid Lounge has stirred up a stink, with some tourists now saying the big bash was just a bash for their cash.more>>
By Phil Williams Chief Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tootsie's Orchid Lounge is a must-see destination for many tourists visiting Music City.
But surveillance video raises questions about the treatment received by one visitor. Tootsie's employees told police that the tourist himself was out of control, but the video suggests there's much more to the story.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Tootsie's owner Steve Smith, "Have your security people ever gotten out of control?"
"Not that I know of," he answered.
Still, Smith didn't want to talk about the video, obtained from police files, of Tootsie's employees pursuing a tourist who got into an argument with a bartender.
"My reputation of this establishment is fine," Smith insisted.
When told that "we have video of one of your patrons being chased down the street," Smith was emphatic.
"Then you show your video. You didn't get the video from me," said Smith.
But security guard trainer Buford Tune, who has taught some of the licensed security guards at Tootsie's, said the 2009 incident -- involving employees who are not licensed -- is not what he teaches.
"Once he leaves that location, it's over," Tune said. "They should stop at the door."
Instead, the video shows the tourist backing up the sidewalk. As a friend attempts to take him by the arm, the Tootsie's employees push that friend aside, then chase the tourist out of the camera's view.
"Now they're becoming the aggressors -- the security personnel," Tune said.
A taxi driver, who called 911, saw what happened next.
"The old man did not do anything," the taxi driver told a 911 operator. "They sucker punched that old man. They were out of their area. They sucker punched him across the street."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Smith if he had seen the video.
"I'm not allowed to talk about any of the videos because I've been instructed by my attorney not to say anything about any of the videos, the lawsuits," he said.
But according to a lawsuit settled by Tootsie's, the tourist then "fell face-first off the sidewalk and onto the public street." He required "more than 100 stitches in his head," and suffered "a severely torn ear lobe, broken teeth, contusions, cuts and various other injuries."
In an interview with police, a Tootsie's employee in what appears to be a black security t-shirt claims the tourist spit in his face. But he denied touching the tourist -- or even chasing him.
"I never so much as got close enough to touch him -- even one finger. Never," the employee, John Robert Martinez, said.
Martinez is a convicted felon who had knifed two men in an argument.
"Oh, that bothers me a lot," Tune said, "that we even have a person that's working like this in a job-related situation that he may have to step in and produce some type of authority."
And, as our NewsChannel 5 investigation first revealed, Tootsie's has employed several convicted felons -- including a night manager with a history of armed robbery.
But regulators say there's not much that they can do about that.
"We attempted to have a bill passed that would allow us to conduct a nationwide background check," said Danielle Elks, executive director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. "However, that bill did not pass."
Elks said state law makes it illegal for certain convicted felons to work in a bar for up to eight years after they've been convicted, 10 years to own a bar.
But Michael Eugene Seay had spent 20 years in prison for a string of violent armed robberies -- so he was eligible to go to work at Tootsie's the day he walked out of prison.
"We go by the date of the conviction, not the date of the release," Elks said. "So if the conviction took place 15 or 20 years ago, they are eligible to work at a licensed premises by statute."
In the incident caught on video, as soon as the blue lights of police show up, the Tootsie's employees made a beeline back to the bar.
Tune say it's a problem when the security doesn't want to talk to police.
"If you are going to pursue it to one point, you've got to pursue it all the way through," the security guard trainer said.
"If the guy was causing a disturbance, if he was being disorderly, if he assaulted, then they should have stood right there and said, 'I'm the one that put him out, I'm the one he assaulted, he's been disorderly, we want to press charges.'"
That's the way, he says, a tourist attraction that calls itself "world famous" should behave.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked to interview Mr. Smith to talk about what actions he took in response to the video and what he's doing to make sure that tourists who come there are safe.
But he refused to admit that there had ever been a problem.
As for the police investigation, detectives told the tourist that, if he had behaved inappropriately, he too could be charged.
After Tootsie's settled his lawsuit, the man decided not to cooperate with police.
Still, police tell me they have an open investigation of an assault complaint filed by another tourist in another incident.