A gay man alleges he was called a gang member and verbally and physically abused April 3 at a new gay-owned nightclub that’s billing itself as a mixed space.
John Heil says he was sitting outside the washroom at the recently opened Five Sixty on Seymour St when a club bouncer saw blood on his hand and told him to get out because “it looks like you’ve been fighting or something.”
Heil, who says he had scraped his knuckles on the bar’s brick walls earlier in the evening, told the bouncer he had not been fighting nor was he “doing anything wrong” to warrant being asked to leave.
At that point, Heil alleges, the bouncer again told him to get out, picked him up and threw him into a stairwell. Heil says he sustained bruises on his arms from the fall.
Heil alleges he was further abused by two other bouncers at the door, after he asked to get his coat and let his friends know what had happened.
“They were like, ‘You’re not getting in with that bloody hand, you look like you’re a gang member, what kind of fight you trying to cause here?'” Heil alleges.
Heil says he denied being a gang member but to no avail. The bouncers “started getting really belligerent,” he alleges, saying they pointed to his tattoos and announced that gang members are not allowed in.
Heil says he refused to leave without his jacket and complained about how he was being treated.
When another club staffer eventually went to retrieve his coat, the situation deteriorated further, Heil says.
“[The bouncers] grabbed me by my arms, put my arms behind my back and threw me down on the ground,” he alleges. “They pinned me down on the ground and held me there, and said I was abusing them and that they were calling the police and that I was going to get charged or something.”
“I didn’t understand why it was happening,” Heil continues. “I was just trying to get my coat. I wasn’t hitting them, I wasn’t being abusive. But the fact that I wouldn’t leave was enough for them to think I was being abusive, I guess.”
A police report of the incident suggests a different story.
Insp John deHaas of the Vancouver Police Department’s diversity section says officers responded to a call about a fight outside the club that night.
DeHaas says the police report indicates Heil was escorted out of the club, became “combative with the doorman,” who had a red mark on the right side of his face “where he had been struck” by Heil.
Police found Heil being restrained on the ground when they arrived at the club.
The report says Heil didn’t have “any injuries to see” but there was evidence that he was “quite drunk,” deHaas says.
According to the report, “Mr Heil had in fact started the fight by striking the doorman,” deHaas says.
The report further states that Heil fell asleep while police waited for the police wagon to show up.
“When he’s woken up, he becomes quite abusive” to the police,” deHaas says.
There’s nothing in the police report about Heil being called a gang member,” deHaas notes. Neither is there any indication in the report about Heil’s contention that he had been thrown on the stairwell inside the club,’ he adds.
Heil says police handcuffed him and put him in a police van without asking him his side of the incident. He alleges the bouncers repeated to police that he was being abusive and that they thought he was a gang member.
Heil, who spent the night in jail and was released next day, says he wasn’t allowed to make a phone call. He says police gave him a ticket for being drunk in a public place but didn’t charge him.
“I wasn’t even drunk,” Heil insists. “I had had a couple drinks but it’s not like I deserved this. I wasn’t stumbling or causing a scene.”
For his part, Five Sixty co-owner Vincent Alvaro says the club’s doorman “mistakenly thought” Heil was a gang member.
“I spoke to the doorman and we have since let that doorman go,” he reveals.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Alvaro says. “We do have this on video, part of it.”
Alvaro says the video shows Heil and a bouncer talking on the sidewalk outside the club. “For some reason, the bouncer phoned the police, the police took Mr Heil away, he spent the night in jail.
“Our doorman had told the police that this was a gang member, because of his tattoos,” says Alvaro.
“A completely ridiculous situation unfolded,” Alvaro acknowledges, adding that he didn’t find out about it until two days later.
“We have had from the day we opened about 10 complaints” about the now-fired doorman, he admits.
Alvaro says there is no video of Heil’s treatment inside the club. He says the club is monitored by 16 cameras on the inside.
“We are definitely going to get this all taken care of,” Alvaro promises.
He says he is going to give Heil “a full apology” for the mistaken identity.
“We are going to be far more sensitive to our clientele; we’re actually going to hire a couple of gay bouncers,” says Alvaro, noting that the club has a hostess outside now.
“We are aggressively not wanting gangsters of any kind in this club, and the doormen have been briefed by the police, the gang squad, all sorts of things,” he adds, noting that “if a gangster comes in, they are usually red-flagged.
“This doorman unfortunately acted a little aggressively,” he says.
“Doormen are actually the hardest staff members to find in a nightclub because, unfortunately, they can be a bit more aggressive than anyone else,” Alvaro says.