In the very early hours of the morning on April 30, in a parking lot connected to Hollywood nightclub Supperclub, a patron was shoved to the ground and surrounded by a handful of hulking guards.
One of the guards, wearing a jacket reading "Security," took a hop back, jogged forward and kicked the man in the face. He then delivered another kick before being restrained.
An incensed crowd gathered, including multiplatinum rappers T.I. and The Game. When LAPD showed up shortly thereafter, the rappers — perhaps believing the police were going to further the violence — engaged them in a standoff, crossing their arms and refusing to disperse. The cops assumed crowd-control stances, with their batons (and what appeared to be at least one firearm) at the ready. The situation eventually was settled without more violence, and the patron was able to get up and walk away. The incident was captured by TMZ, however, and left many viewers upset.
Supperclub, known for its packed crowds, aerialists and confetti-laden parties, has been in the news before. Last year, the L.A. City Attorney's office filed a criminal case against the exclusive spot, alleging that it violated the fire code, was overcrowded and had "life-safety hazards."
Supperclub did not respond to L.A. Weekly's request for comment, but it did issue a rather vague public statement, which read, in part: "An unfortunate escalation between an angry onlooker who was denied entry to Supperclub, and a rogue security officer who took matters too far, led to an untenable altercation."
The incident has brought renewed attention to the issue of nightlife security and raised questions: Are bouncers at Hollywood nightclubs too violent? And, if so, who's patrolling the security guards?
You probably can picture Hollywood's nightlife scene even if you've never experienced it: Drunk girls in spandex minidresses stumble out of massive doorways, while dudes in striped button-downs and jeans jostle each other behind plush red ropes, forming lines that snake down the street. Clubs such as Create, Supperclub and Lure are large, multiroom affairs with expensive bottle service and slick design, booming EDM, hip-hop and Top 40 until 2 a.m.
The area, located roughly between Franklin and Sunset to the north and south, and La Brea and Argyle to the west and east, is patrolled by LAPD's Hollywood Entertainment District division. On any given night of the week, says Lieutenant Mark Dibell, the officer in charge of the district, as many as 64 officers are on duty.
"We're more heavily deployed because of the nightclubs," Dibell says, adding the obvious — that the combination of alcohol and hormones can be a volatile mix.
It's difficult to know how often nightclub fights break out, and how often security guards enter the fray. No agency in California tracks such statistics, and opinions from experts about their frequency vary widely.
But these types of public skirmishes certainly happen often enough in Hollywood to draw a dedicated police presence, and on a typical night in the district, officers proactively seek them out.
Still, Dibell insists that incidents as extreme as the one at Supperclub described above are few and far between. "In the two years I've been in this unit," he says, "it's the only incident [of its type] I'm aware of."
But others disagree, including Michael Kopple, an L.A.-based attorney who specializes in defending people involved in bar fights. "The budget is not very big for security in those places," he says. "[Guards] beat people up quite a bit."
Chris McGoey, an L.A.-based security consultant who's worked with Southern California nightclubs for the past 30 years, adds, "Does it happen? Yes. But they're not supposed to do that. That's not their training, it's not their protocol, it's not what their supervisors would want them to do."
McGoey also says that cops may be more lenient with security guards, because in their daily duties the two groups tend to get to know one another.
"If [police] are assigned to the club area," he says, "there's a certain familiarity, and it's kind of human nature to cut them a little more slack. If there's a bouncer who usually behaves in a professional manner, and there's a fight where the bouncer is taking some licks and he defends himself, I can see where the police might align themselves with the security."
Dibell disputes this, insisting that police don't have a special relationship with bouncers, that there's no "looking the other way."
In any case, one thing is clear: Becoming a registered security guard in California does not require much training. All told, to receive what's known as a "guard card" requires just 40 hours of coursework, according to the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, a Sacramento-based government agency. The training sessions cover everything from terrorism awareness to liability, evacuation procedures and workplace violence.
After completing the course, the trainee — who must be 18 or older and submit to a background check — pays $50 and is issued a license, good for two years.
"If a bouncer's primary duties are to provide security services — if they wear a 'security' shirt and interact with the public — then they are required to have a license," says Monica Vargas, a spokeswoman for the bureau.
Still, according to Kopple, smaller bars often hire bouncers without licenses, although this does not appear to be the case with big Hollywood clubs.
Most of those organizations are staffed by third-party security companies such as 5 Diamond Protection, which is used by the clubs Playhouse and Sound, located within an eight-block radius in Hollywood. (5 Diamond did not respond to the Weekly's request for comment.)
Playhouse owner Robert Vinokur says that the requirements for security guards at his establishment are high.
"In a lot of other places, new kids get hired who are looking for an extra job," he says. "But we look for people who have worked for a place for more than five years — maybe mall security, or property security. We ask them questions: 'If a situation comes up, what would you do?' "
They are not, for starters, supposed to act like the cops. "Security are not the police," McGoey says. "They don't have the same mandate. The police are mandated to intervene and stop crime."
"We call them more like hosts," Vinokur says. "We expect them to make sure that everyone is safe.
"You are allowed to hold the individual, and then you need to call for the police. Force is the last thing that we want to do," Vinokur adds.
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A guard might be justified in physically removing a patron who refuses to leave, Kopple says, but he wouldn't be justified in whipping out a gun.
At the end of the day, Kopple says, the police may be more likely to side with security guards, simply because they're able to tell cops what they need to know in order to press charges against a perpetrator.
"Security guards," he says, "know how to man up and play the game."
But when the guards themselves are the perpetrators? Then, it appears, all bets are off.