Fort Worth

Men say West 7th bar bouncers, police officer beat them up after ‘racist’ incident

West 7th Bar Association to Race & Culture Task Force: We don’t discriminate

"It's just a false rumor." Watch as West 7th business owners deny they discriminate based on race and say they're enforcing their dress codes for safety reasons.
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"It's just a false rumor." Watch as West 7th business owners deny they discriminate based on race and say they're enforcing their dress codes for safety reasons.

Two men say they were beat up by bouncers and a police officer after one of the men was discriminated against at a Fort Worth bar.

Marlon Young and Nathan Murrell filed a lawsuit against Whiskey Garden in Tarrant County court Monday, saying bouncer Adam Shafer refused to let Young into the bar because is black.

However, Whiskey Garden’s owner, Emil Bragdon, said the men’s story is false, and they were the ones who instigated a fight with Shafer and other bouncers on the night of July 14, 2017.

In the suit, Murrell said he was celebrating his birthday at Whiskey Garden, which is on West 7th Street, with friends. Young tried to join them inside, but Shafer told him he could not come in because he was by himself, the suit says.

Murrell confronted Shafer, who is also white, and said he, and other white people, had come into the bar by themselves. Murrell said Shafer was only refusing Young service because he is black, according to the suit.

“So Nathan says he’s leaving and he starts telling them out loud that this is clearly discrimination,” Murrell and Young’s lawyer, Marcus Roberts, said. “The bouncers start to get agitated because they’re getting called out in front of people and their authority is being questioned.”

Meanwhile, Murrell and Young started to leave the premises, the suit says. As they stepped over a chain at the end of the property, several bouncers, including Shafer, tackled Young to the ground and started to beat him up, the men say in the lawsuit.

A Fort Worth police officer working security for Whiskey Garden punched Murrell in the back of the head, according to the suit.

Murrell was arrested and charged with public intoxication and assault. The charges were later dropped.

“Nathan never made an aggressive movement toward them; he only defended himself and he got arrested and spent the night in jail, all bloodied up,” Roberts, who went to high school with Murrell, said. “There was no reason at all to follow them off of Whiskey Garden grounds.”

However, the owner of the bar and Fort Worth police tell a different story.

Bragdon, who said he spoke with Shafer on Monday about the fight, said Young was refused entry into the bar because he was hostile to Shafer at the door. He also said many other people in the bar that night were black and were let into the bar without any issues.

“The usual case of things with this, people don’t like to be told ‘no’ when they come in; the first thing they say is ‘it’s about race,’” Bragdon said. “How are we racist if everybody inside is all multi-colored people? If there was one race in there, then yes, that bar is racist. But there is every single race inside our place every night a week.”

Bragdon also said someone in Murrell’s group initiated the attack by punching Shafer in the face, prompting other bouncers and off-duty officers working security to become involved.

A police report of the fight says officers responded to Whiskey Garden on a call about a fight, which Fort Worth police say officers broke up.

Two off-duty officers at the bar said Murrell punched Shafer in the face and Murrell, Young and two other men fought with Shafer, who had cuts on his face. The two officers said Murrell was drunk and screaming at security personnel, according to the police report.

However, Roberts, who is originally from Fort Worth, said Whiskey Garden has a reputation for discriminating against customers. He said Yelp reviews, some of which say the bar turned people away or treated them badly because they were not white, reveal a pattern of racism at the establishment.

Roberts also said the incident highlights a larger problem in the U.S. in which black men are targeted by police and face discrimination.

“For me, it substantiates the fear that us black men live with every day,” Roberts said. “I live with the fear every day that if I’m in a situation at the wrong time, in the wrong place, I could be caught up just because of my skin color.”

Bragdon said Yelp reviews are not accredited and are often inaccurate. He also said he is Asian himself and it would not make sense for him to be prejudiced against other races.

Previous West 7th discrimination allegations

Whiskey Garden is just blocks away from Varsity Tavern, which faced backlash in April 2018 after several club-goers said the dress code was discriminatory based on race.

In response, in May 2018, the Fort Worth Race and Culture Task Force sat down with members of the West 7th Restaurant & Bar Association to discuss equal access to public accommodations.

At the 2018 meeting, Tino DeFranco, one of the managing members of Whiskey Garden and president of the association, vehemently denied any type of discrimination at Whiskey Garden.

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.