Pacific Beach, some say, is becoming an increasingly racist place. White gangs like P.B. Vurmin (sic?) have sprung up in the western end of the community, as if to counter the growing presence of blacks and Hispanics to the south, on the beach, and to the east, in the cheaper housing near Interstate 5. “Twenty0five years ago, we never heard anything about crimes involving race in Pacific Beach,” says San Diego police spokesman Bill Robinson, “but we are now. It’s a different era, and different people are moving into the community.”
One night last August, this racism allegedly spilled into what for more than ten years has been one of the community’s more popular nightclubs, Club Diego’s. In a civil lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court, Nathan Horner, a 23-year-old African-American, claims he was savagely beaten by a former club bouncer on a night when the entertainment consisted of performances by three allegedly racist rock bands.
“We are alleging that our client was assaulted and battered in an unprovoked attack by an off-duty bouncer of Diego’s,” says Horner’s attorney, Jeffrey Estes. “He was viciously assaulted — when you read the police report, witnesses characterize the attack as kicking him in the head as if it were a soccer ball. Nathan had four teeth knocked out, a broken jaw, a concussion, cervical injuries, contusions on his face, and significant psychological injuries.”
According to Estes, Horner is a young graphic artist who has created logos for several surfboard companies. “He’s a real mellow type of guy, a mulatto, a real nice kid,” Estes says. “He lives in Pacific Peach — he takes his surfboard wherever he goes — and he even has a VIP card from Diego’s.”
On the night of August 9, 1993, the suit says, Club Diego’s was the site of a dance party featuring Psychic Zoo and two other rock bands that were hired “to provide their particularly violent and racist brand of music.” Production and promotion chores were relegated to four local companies with strong ties to San Diego’s nightclub scene “in order that there would be attracted to Diego’s…the greatest possible number of patrons whose taste in music ran toward the violent, profane, aggressive, and racist,” according to the suit.
Horner, something of a regular at Club Diego’s, had come down that night, Estes says. “He went to the front of the line, hoping to use his VIP card, but the bouncer told him he would have to wait I lien like everybody else, that his VIP card wasn’t good for this particular production,” he says. “So he walked along the line to see if he knew anybody, and while he was walking, some guy said something to him and a couple of guys nailed him. That’s how it started.”
According to the suit, Robert Wuest, “with the aid and assistance of defendant Diegos’s other employees and bouncers,” pummeled Horner “with fists and steel-toes boots upon plaintiff’s had with such force and violence that he was rendered unconscious and suffered a broken jaw and the loss of numerous teeth and received numerous other serious, permanent and ear-fatal injuries. This attack was prompted by nothing other than the fact that plaintiff is of African-American descent.”
According to the police report, one witness told police that “once Horner was on the ground, Wuest kicked Horner in the head ‘like a soccer kick.’ Wuest kicked Horner in the head again. ‘I saw teeth flying.’” Another witness told police, “I saw this one guy punch the victim in the head and then the guy you have in the police car [Wuest] kicked the poor guy in the head when he was on the ground. It was terrible to watch.”
After the attack, Horner, bloodied and semi-conscious, was taken to the hospital. Police tried questioning him, the report says. “I attempted to talk to Nathan Horner at Scripps Memorial Hospital. All he could tell me was, ‘I don’t know what happened. What’s going on? Due to Horner’s condition I did not continue questioning him.”
Wuest was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon (his boots, according to the arrest report) and possession of a controlled substance (0.09 grams of white powder, believed to be crystal methamphetamine, which police found in the patrol car, the arrest report says). According to his attorney, William Wheeler, Wuest pleaded guilty to the assault charge and was sentenced to 270 days of work furlough, “Which he is successfully performing.”
Defendants in the suit include Wuest, the alleged assailant; Club Diego’s, its owner and its management firm; four production companies involved in staging the August 9 event; and the three allegedly racist rock bands.
The music of the three bands, the suit charges, “generally glorified, venerated, advocated and encouraged violence, profanity, anger, aggression and racism amongst its listeners, many of whom were known to be associated with groups advocating a dogma of racism.”
Mike Jewett, the leader of Psychic Zoo, denies charges that his band is racist. “It would be kind of hard for me to be racist, because of two of my members are Jewish,” he says, although he concedes, “Yeah, we attract a lot of skinheads…. But I don’t’ think that’s necessarily racist — it’s just that type of music.” He adds. “And it has nothing to do with the lyrical content of the music,” he adds. “And it has nothing to do with the lyrical content of the music, it’s the speed. A lot of suicidal-type people also like our band, and they’re gang-oriented and they cause problems, just like the skinheads. It’s very frustrating for us, because you get these types of people who like this kind of music because it’s fast, and they come to your shows and they mess things up.”
Moreover, Jewett says, he remembers the August 9 incident at Club Diego’s, and racism had nothing to do with it. “The basis of eh fight was that some suicidal guys from Oceanside ran into some skinhead guys — not even skinheads, just some guys from the beach — and it was an old thing and they started a fight. And this kid, this perpetually positive kid, I call him, just got in the way. He was trying to stop things.”
The suit charges that the club’s owner and management firm “should have known” that Club Diego’s could be “unsafe…inasmuch as the premises were known to be a place where dangerous individuals with known propensities for violence routinely congregate, particularly when an event appealing to fans of bands like defendants… were undertaken.”
Mike Lee, who says he’s one of the owners of Club Diego’s, remembers the attack on Horner, but he says the club is most certainly not to blame. “That’s preposterous,” he says. “That’s a really wild accusation.” Club Diego’s has never fostered a racist environment, Lee says. “People come from all over to see the bands,” he says. “We hire people from our own community to do business, and they book national as well as local acts. We try to benefit all of San Diego, and we get a totally mixed crowd. On our own staff, we have black and Mexican bouncers and a Filipino and a Vietnamese bartender. It has nothing to do with racism, but hey — if I was going to sue the club, I’d probably say the same thing.”
Wheeler, Wuest’s attorney, also denies that the attack on Horner was racially motivated. “Rob is the son of a family friend, he comes from a good family, and I am absolutely flabbergasted that anyone would accuse him of being racist,” Wheeler says. “He’s a nice young man — what can I tell you? He had his problems that evening at Diego’s, but I think it was more a case of mutual combat, in which one guy won and one guy lost and the guy who lost complained criminally.”
Deputy district attorney Kimberly Scott, who prosecuted the case, disagrees. “It was an extremely vicious attack, totally unprovoked,” Scott recalls. “In fact, there were witnesses who were visiting from San Francisco, and after witnessing th attack, they thought that the victim was dead.” Scott says she “didn’t have any indication” that race was a factor, but she concedes that “because the defendant pleaded guilty before our preliminary hearing, our investigation didn’t span out to the crowd at Diego’s, so I don’t know much about the bands or their followers.
“But I do know that there are other cases that are being prosecuted by the district attorney’s office that involve similar types of violent attacks at other nightclubs in Pacific Beach,” she adds. “Those attacks are also unprovoked, but I don’t know the specific nationality of the victims.”