A Fort Worth firefighter is under investigation after a weekend fight in a downtown hotel bar during which he bit a chunk out of another patron’s forehead, police reported.
Michael Benningfield, who was off duty and with his wife at the bar, had to be stunned with a Taser by a Fort Worth officer before he let go of the other man.
Benningfield was not arrested but is the focus of investigations by both police and fire officials.
He has been placed on temporary administrative leave with pay, said Lt. Gregg Russell, a Fire Department spokesman. Benningfield has been with the department since March 2012.
Benningfield, 36, declined to comment when reached by phone Monday afternoon.
Off-duty officer V.E. Gray was working security at the Omni Hotel, 1300 Houston St., when he saw two men fighting inside the Whiskey & Rye bar, according to a police report.
Gray ran inside to find the men on the floor fighting. He yelled, “Fort Worth police! Break it up!” the report states.
One of the men, Shawn Merriman, 39, told investigators that he put his hands up when he heard the officer’s shout. That’s when Benningfield bit him on the forehead, Merriman said. The officer’s report states the bite took a “chunk” out of Merriman’s forehead, just above his right eye.
Unable to break Benningfield’s grip on Merriman, the officer placed his Taser on Benningfield’s stomach area and “drive stunned” the firefighter, causing him to release Merriman, the report states.
Merriman told police he was at the bar for a surprise party for his upcoming 40th birthday. He said he bumped Benningfield with his elbow as he worked his way toward the crowded bar to get a glass of water.
Merriman told police he had just told Benningfield, “Excuse me, I need to get in here,” when Benningfield turned around and punched him, according to the report. Benningfield then grabbed him, and the two men fell to the floor fighting, Merriman said.
Benningfield told officers he was sitting at the bar with his wife when Merriman walked up and punched him from behind. Benningfield said he turned and grabbed Merriman, and they fell to the floor fighting.
The report states Merriman was “reluctant to press charges” but was willing to talk to detectives.
In a phone interview Monday, Merriman said he has since contacted police and said he wants to press charges. Merriman said he had been reluctant at the scene after learning that Benningfield was a city firefighter.
“I didn’t learn that until the firemen showed up. They were the first ones on scene,” Merriman said. “They immediately went over and started tending to him. He had blood all over him. It was my blood.
“A buddy that was helping me said, ‘He’s a Fort Worth firefighter. I just heard them talking.’ ”
As more police officers and an assistant fire chief arrived, Merriman said he became worried, “If I pressed charges, they were going to try to find a reason to take me to jail.”
But Merriman said he changed his mind after taking himself to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital and learning his wound would require surgery.
“I’m going to have to have plastic surgery. They can’t close the hole,” Merriman said. “I have an open wound right now. They’re going to have to do skin grafts and pull skin from other parts of my body to put there in its place.
“I’m not going to have an eyebrow anymore. It’s gone.”
Merriman said Benningfield has anger problems that need to be addressed.
“I was a total stranger, and he was trying to do bad damage,” Merriman said. “That’s the people we want to protect us? I’ve changed my stance a little. If he does it to me, he’s going to do it to someone else.”