Over the past few months we’ve seen several new faces pop up in the newsroom. One of them, Juliana Keeping, is a newcomer to Oklahoma City. So when Juliana contacted me about doing a story about violence at Bricktown bars and clubs, I was a bit concerned. We’ve seen flare-ups in Bricktown violence before.
All too often I’ve seen coverage by other news organizations that involved a quick hit and run approach to this issue – stories that gave little context, and veered to far one way or another. This last year or two was especially concerning, with the son of a police officer convicted of fatally shooting another young man after an altercation at the Bricktown Coca-Cola Events Center and then the beating death of a man outside RokBar along the Bricktown Canal. The Bricktown Association, which took a hard line in speaking out against such violence a few years ago, has been notably silent this time around. So questioning was definitely needed. But would it be done in the proper context?
It’s not that I thought Juliana would do a bad job. She’s done some good stories in the short time since she started at the paper. I just didn’t know what to think. The resulting coverage, however, was among the best I’ve seen on this topic, and I’ve covered downtown and Bricktown for a long time (since the mid-1990s).
I asked Juliana to do a guest blog, providing a behind the scenes glimpse at how she approached this story and the issues she encountered. You can follow Juliana on Twitter at @julianakeeping.
I spoke with friends and family of Daniel Maxedon for a story earlier this month on his death. The 25-year-old Air Force vet w died March 6 after a severe beating along the Bricktown Canal in front of Rok Bar just over three months earlier. It seemed there was more to his story. Maxedon was a regular guy who liked to stay home with his girlfriend. He wasn’t the type to make beef with fellow club goers. He wasn’t the type to go out at all.
My editor and I agreed it would be a good idea to pull records for all assaults in the Bricktown neighborhood for a period of about six months before his Nov. 27 beating through early March. We didn’t know at that time what the story might be, or what the records would reveal. I tried to let a few questions be my guide: is Bricktown safe? Is there something unusual about this area? Do fights occur here more frequently than in other areas? I didn’t have any answers. I also wanted to be fair to one of the city’s crown jewels of rebirth, so I pulled records on other entertainment districts, including one where off-duty cop Chad Peery was beaten. And so, there I was. Buried in police call logs and assault records, with a lot of questions and not a lot of answers, and a deadline approaching fast.
The number of assaults in Bricktown –18 – did not stand out. It was the level of violence in three beatings outside of Rok Bar that I found somewhat stunning. The beating that would eventually claim Maxedon’s life happened Thanksgiving weekend. It left him totally unresponsive, laying on the sidewalk in his own blood at closing time. The assailants are at large and police have no descriptions other than the men were thought to be Hispanic. A similar scene had played out a few months before, in August. That fight that began inside the club and moved outside, according to police records. In January, another big fight that began inside, records stated. Another person knocked out cold.
Besides one other fight in a Bricktown parking lot near Zio’s Italian Kitchen, in three entertainment areas – Classen Circle, West Memorial Road in the northwest and Bricktown — reports did not indicate anyone was knocked out during a bar brawl except people who fought outside of Rok Bar. People sucker punched each other, fought over women, fought over not wanting to end their grand night out at the bar. By and large, they fought because they were sloppy stone cold drunk, but they all walked away, and the only hell they had to pay were some bruises and scrapes and a bad hangover the next day. Maxedon lost his life.
I started asking questions about what I saw in the police reports. Police do not consider that bar a problem area and say Bricktown is safe with a large police presence for such a small area. The neighborhood association takes strides to keep it that way, too. A former manager of Rok Bar pointed out the fight that killed Maxedon did not occur on the premises, it occurred on the street, and no one knows where the assailants came from. A lawyer for In Cahoots Saloon, LLC, the owners of Rok Bar, echoed the former manager’s message and added that the club bans violent individuals.
There was a lone dissident voice.
Dave Johnson was the head of security for four years at Rok Bar. He said he worked for the same group of owners for several years before that. His version of the club was one that packed partiers in at over capacity regularly. Security staff’s recommendations to ban violent regulars? Those were often ignored, if the patrons were good customers — maybe the type to drop thousands in a night on Champagne — or friends of the managers or owners, he said. When he was told to slash his hours and given a budget that meant he’d have to halve his staff, he walked away from the job. Maxedon’s death has been on his mind frequently since he heard the news, said Johnson, an engineer who worked as a bouncer to pay for a PhD.
After pouring over records, giving every side its say and turning a pile of records and interviews in two stories, my editor and I spent a few days whittling my findings down to:
Oklahoma City police characterize beating as tragic anomaly
Bar fights not limited to Oklahoma City’s Bricktown