KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Wild Bull Saloon is a Kalamazoo hot spot — part of the city’s Entertainment District.
But the bar’s owner is threatening to stop investing in downtown after the city and state accused the Wild Bull of violating liquor control laws.
Owner Ryan Reedy blamed a Kalamazoo Public Safety detective, saying he has a vendetta and is unfairly targeting the Wild Bull. He also accused a police sergeant of exaggerating reports of trouble at the bar.
His general manager said he believes the detective is trying to shut down the bar.
It has caused a rift between police who said they are protecting the public and a bar owner who said officers are abusing their power.
“If Kalamazoo wants me gone, then they can keep doing what they’re doing because I will not continue to invest in this kind of environment,” Reedy told Target 8.
Kalamazoo police in December sent four liquor violation cases to the state, alleging The Wild Bull allowed barroom fights and that bouncers mistreated customers, putting one in a headlock and zip-tying another after a bouncer said the man had head-butted him.
That led the state Liquor Control Commission to file four violation complaints against the bar.
The LCC is scheduled to hold a hearing on March 5 on all four complaints at the Kalamazoo Township Hall.
“There is absolutely no question in my mind — this is targeted,” Reedy said. “There’s a direct effort to create us great financial harm.”
Reedy blamed the Kalamazoo detective who sent the complaints to the LCC — Detective Charles Dahlinger.
“Abuse, harassment, bullying,” Reedy charged.
He said the detective has been out to get him since Reedy stood up to him over a complaint in 2010.
“He sends in frivolous reports,” Reedy said.
Reedy also claims a Kalamazoo police sergeant — not Dahlinger — exaggerated to the LCC when he wrote that police had responded to the bar 118 times during the last half of 2013.
Reedy said he obtained police reports that show most of the calls had nothing to do with incidents at the bar.
Those reports show many of the calls were so-called directed patrols, where officers were sent to the bar in case of trouble.
Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley defended his officers, saying nobody is targeting the Wild Bull.
“That’s their opinion,” Hadley said.
Dahlinger is the city’s former liquor control officer who was re-assigned more than a year ago, Hadley said. Hadley said Dahlinger handled the recent cases against the Wild Bull because he is the detective assigned to downtown.
Reedy acknowledged there are fights at the Wild Bull — 109 since April 2012, according to his own records.
“Dance clubs have bigger challenges everywhere,” Reedy said. “I don’t care where you go, if you look into dance clubs they’re all going to have what you’re seeing with ours.”
But the bar’s general manager, William Beeching, said the bar has taken steps to make it safer — a dress code, training workers on how not to overserve, turning drunks away at the door, changing its music.
The bar’s records show fights have been cut in half — to about four a month.
“We’re just trying to not have a crowd in here that fights, is what we’ve been working hard towards,” Beeching said.
Target 8 started investigating how police respond to trouble at the Wild Bull after receiving two anonymous letters — complaining not that police were targeting the bar, but that they were ignoring earlier alleged violations.
Those letters were sent before the four LCC complaints were filed in December.
Hadley said his department never played favorites with the bar. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I think we try to work with our businesses. It just so happens, this business was the Wild Bull.
“Here we sit and you have a business that thinks we may be picking on them, per se, and then you have information we’re giving all this special treatment,” Hadley said. “Where does that leave us? I mean we’re caught right in the middle of those two opinions.”
Ryan Reedy is a high-profile Kalamazoo business owner who had announced plans for a 20-story downtown hotel tower — plans he now says are on hold over the dispute with police.
“I pay over $200,000 a year in taxes to downtown Kalamazoo,” Reedy said. “Do you think I deserve a little more customer support?”
Mayor Bobby Hopewell said Reedy has complained to him for a couple years that police were unfairly targeting his bar.
“In this case, I’ve heard from the owner, ‘Hey, I feel targeted. I feel discriminated against, what do I do?’” Hopewell said.
Reedy has contributed $1,500 in recent years to Hopewell’s campaigns. Hopewell held his re-election victory party at one of his bars in November.
“We’re friends, we’re good friends, absolutely,” Hopewell said.
The mayor said he brought Reedy’s complaints to the chief, but said the bar got no special treatment. He said he also knows of no attempt to shut down the bar.
“If we are targeting anybody, if there’s that going on, it needs to stop,” Hopewell said. “If we’re doing our job, we’re doing our job.”
Hadley said records show his department is not picking on the bar.
Target 8 found that is despite four written requests by the state Liquor Control Commission asking police to investigate the Wild Bull dating back to the summer of 2010 – for alleged complaints of over-serving, allowing fights and serving minors.
And, Target 8 found, when police did find alleged trouble, they didn’t always send it to the LCC — sometimes on written order of the chief.
Two reports not sent to the state were for fights in 2012 that sent eight people to the hospital, including a police officer, and led to three arrests.
Daniel Doerr, then the Wild Bull’s security chief, was among those injured in one of those fights — in March 2012.
“I had a lot of cuts on my head, bleeding, some shoulder pain,” Doerr said. “I’m pretty sure I got hit in the head with a beer bottle.”
Police reports show the fight involved as many as 30 people, led to one arrest and sent some of the bar’s bouncers to the hospital.
“I think there were five of us, we were all in the ambulance together,” Doerr said.
“I worked the next weekend actually, black eyes and everything. I was real jumpy and real skittish,” he said. “Somebody would come up to me close and I would kind of tense up.”
Then he quit.
“I wanted nothing to do with the bar, I just wanted to put the whole incident behind me,” he said.
It was that incident, according to an email obtained by Target 8, that prompted a Kalamazoo officer to ask Detective Charles Dahlinger, then the city’s liquor control officer, about filing a violation with the LCC.
But a month later, in April 2012, there was this hand-written note: “Per Chief’s Office, no submission to LCC.”
Chief Hadley said that wasn’t a case of his department playing favorites.
“That was back, best of my memory, in 2012, when we sat down with the ownership there and that’s when they started putting those other measures into place,” he said.
Those measures, he said, included a dress code, a breathalyzer installed in the bar, and better training.
“We always have that discretion,” Hadley said.
Since the LCC started repeatedly asking police to investigate in the summer of 2010, Target 8 found the commission cited the bar just once – in 2012, for overserving, a case reduced to drunken loitering.
That is, until the end of last year — when the city sent four violations to the state.
One of those new cases involved an alleged assault in September.
Christopher Snooks, 40, of Royal Oak, told Target 8 he was drinking at the bar with friends, after a day of golfing, when a stranger started harassing him, trying to pick a fight.
A Kalamazoo police report shows bouncers kicked out the stranger, but that he somehow returned 15 minutes later.
“He punched me in the face and his friends were holding my friends back and he pounced on top of me and continued to kick me,” Snooks said.
Snooks said bouncers should have kept his alleged attacker out.
“They’re supposed to protect the people that come to their bar,” Snooks said.
Beeching, the bar’s general manager, said bouncers did everything they could to protect him.
“As soon as the guy came back and hit him we broke it up right away,” Beeching said. “We can’t prevent fights. It’s a bar. Things are going to happen. As soon as it happened, we had it broke up.”
In another of the four new cases, a Wild Bull bouncer is accused of “annoying” 20-year-old customer Christopher Abbs in August. It happened about 2 a.m. on an 18-and-older night.
Abbs told police that a bouncer bumped into one of his friends while trying to break up a fight, according to the police report. He said he was trying to get the bouncer to apologize.
“He got like furious with me, like in my face, yelled at me to get out of there,” Abbs told Target 8. “He immediately just threw me in a headlock and started dragging me out of there.”
In a police report, bouncers said Abbs was “extremely intoxicated,” which Abbs denied.
“If I was underage drinking, that’s on them,” Abbs said.
Abbs wasn’t charged, but the LCC complaint accuses the bouncer of “annoying” him.
Records show Kalamazoo police sent all four complaints to the LCC on Dec. 11 — five days after a fight that led a bouncer to “zip-tie” a customer.
Bouncers told police they were kicking out a 19-year-old customer for wearing a gold chain — violating the dress code — when he threatened them and head-butted one of them, cutting that bouncer’s nose.
A bouncer zip-tied his wrists to subdue him, then let him go, but didn’t call police until he returned with friends, according to police reports.
Police said they couldn’t determine whether the customer or the bouncer was the aggressor, so neither was charged with a crime. However, the LCC complaint alleged the bouncer “annoyed” the customer.
The bouncer, Marshall Hamilton, told Target 8 he used a zip-tie because he feared the customer might have a weapon. He denied “annoying” him.
“No, it was the other way around,” Hamilton said. “Even the police report is false. I’ve read it.”
Ryan Reedy called the cases “frivolous.” He said he expects to win all four cases before the Liquor Control Commission.
“I will not put up with bad government,” he said. “I will not put up with people going after us.”