Performers at a Valentine's Day party held in the Brink Lounge say Madison police used inappropriate force while clearing patrons from the club after a fight early Sunday morning. Four persons were arrested in the incident, including local emcee Rob Dz, and the near east side venue has now ceased booking hip-hop shows.
"They had no regard for anybody, and if you didn't do what they said, you were pushed on the ground," declares Shay Newman about the actions of the police. Better known as DJ Fusion, he witnessed both the initial altercation and subsequent arrests by responding officers after performing for the party. His describes the incident as one of misdirected overreaction on the part of the police.
"Just because somebody is telling you what you're doing is wrong doesn't give you the right to attack them," says Dexter Patterson, who performs as Tefman with L.O.S.T. S.O.U.L.S., the headlining act at the party. He too objects to the actions by police at the club, and contends that they reflect a negative attitude towards hip-hop in Madison by law enforcement.
Shortly before bar time on Sunday, at the end of "So Seductive: A Valentine's Day Ball" at the Brink, police were called by both club security and show promoters to break up a fight between two women attending the party. "When officers arrived the disturbance had ended, but Brink Lounge staff asked for police help in clearing the nightclub," details the incident report issued by the Madison Police Department. "Most patrons were cooperative, but officers say a few were not. A physical confrontation took place between one suspect and one officer, which led to the officer being scratched in the face, and the suspect being struck in the mouth. Pepper spray was used on another bar patron who an officer said tried to interfere with an arrest." A total of 16 officers from the MPD responded, along with an unspecified number of Capitol Police officers.
Four people were arrested: Mitchelle B. Lyle, 22, was cited and released for disorderly conduct; Michaela B. Machiote, 22, was arrested and tentatively charged with resisting a peace officer and battery to a peace officer; Nicole L. Stadfield, 29, was arrested and tentatively charged with obstructing a peace officer; and Robert J. Franklin, 35, was cited and released for obstructing a peace officer. Known in the Madison music scene as Rob Dz and a performer at the party, Franklin has declined to comment on the incident and his arrest citing legal reasons, but has spoken to a lawyer and plans to file a formal complaint to the MPD.
Brink Lounge general manager Matt Brink was present at the club, and says everything went smoothly until shortly before bar time. As the lights were turned on to mark the end of the party, a fight commenced between two women. The police were called after private security for the event became concerned it could escalate, but the altercation did not last long.
"When the police got there everything was under control," notes Brink, "but when they helped escort people out, several people apparently resisted, and that's why they got arrested."
Newman says everything started when the security guards were unable to escort the two women outside after they started fighting. The police were called, and the club and party promoters decided to wrap up the event and ask everybody to head home, at which point the trouble really started. Police say Lyle was arrested for refusing to leave the club, while he says the woman was arrested while trying to prevent one of the women involved in the original altercation from leaving the scene. A confrontation subsequently ensued between Machiote and an officer, at which point when Franklin got caught up in the incident.
Patterson says that Franklin and other performers were observing the scene. "When they saw police assaulting the young woman, they said, 'Hey, she's bleeding!,'" he explains. "Rob pleaded with the cops to get off of her, the cops said back up, and then they just ran up on them with pepper spray and threw him on the ground," he continues, adding that the musician's shoulder was hurt and reading glasses lost in the process.
"There was a group of ten of us there who were trying to say Rob didn't do anything wrong, but the cop did not listen to one word anyone said," explains Newman, who was also observing the arrests. "He said that if he did not walk away and leave, we would all be under arrest."
Both say Stadfield, who was recording the scene with a video camera, was subsequently arrested. They also cite other confrontations with police.
Patterson says his mother was working at the door to the club and was pushed to the side by an officer entering onto the scene. "They seemed like they had their minds made up that they needed to be aggressive," he says. "If anything, they should have come in and assisted the security in getting the people out. The night was over, the lights were on, and people were leaving. Instead, they elevate the tension and made people feel more uncomfortable."
Meanwhile, Newman explains he had trouble removing his DJ equipment, which he estimates as worth some $10,000, when compelled to leave the club. "Not all of this stuff can be taken out at one time," he says, "so the cops are telling me that if I don't leave, I'm under arrest for obstruction. They're threatening to spray me with a mace can while I'm trying to carry stereo equipment towards the door."
Franklin was cited and later released from a police car outside the club. "If they felt so threatened by him that they had to use this force, why was he pepper sprayed and assaulted only to be let go later?," asks Patterson.
For his part, Brink says he witnessed only one arrest in the main lounge area of the sprawling belowground venue, and noted that it did not appear to be out of the ordinary. "I personally did not see any excessive force being used, or anything like that," he says. This was the first time police were called to the club since its opening three years ago.
The disturbance was the latest in a series of difficulties for the Madison hip-hop scene, which has acquired a stigma of violence and negativity amidst a series of disturbances around the city for many years. Musicians and fans of the music say the reputation is undeserved, saying that the number and severity of altercations is comparable to that seen elsewhere in local nightlife. "I hope this is treated as an isolated event," says DJ Pain 1, a Madison-based producer concerned about the ripple effects of this incident. "I consider it a bar fight, not a hip-hop fight."
Multiple live music clubs in town have responded to disturbances at hip-hop shows by changing their booking practices, meanwhile. The Brink Lounge is the latest, and it will stop hosting hip-hop shows on an indefinite basis.
"We have decided to strictly adhere to the format we're known for, and that is live music," says Brink. "It's unfortunate that there is that negative connotation with hip-hop, and unfortunately it's only a couple of people that cause an issue, but we feel it's best for us to focus on our reputation."
Needless to say, this will all continue the debate over the place of hip-hop in Madison's live music business, and the larger issue of race in the city.
Patterson says that media and political attention to hip-hop in Madison is focused on negative matters and doesn't focus on positive events like recent shows geared towards registering voters, collecting winter coats for the indigent, or raising money for a child with cancer. Up next is a benefit show for the Madison Music Area Awards at the High Noon Saloon on Saturday, February 21, at which he is performing along with Dz and others.
"They don't talk about the good things we've done," Patterson says. "Stop blaming hip-hop and all of these innocent people for doing nothing wrong. It's unjust and unfair, and in a city like Madison that takes pride in supposedly being liberal, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask if we are really being fair."
Newman concurs. "It was simply two irresponsible patrons that could have been at any establishment downtown," he says. "The Madison hip-hop community never gets praise for anything positive, but when something negative happens, it leaves a shadow that does not go away."
Clare Milliken contributed to this article.