Nightclub brute squad?

Complaints of excessive force abound downtown Reno club

Bars, clubs and coffee houses that are not lodged safely within casino walls often don’t fare well in Reno. They spring up and attract a loyal following for a year or two. Then, a few weeks later, you drive by and find out that your favorite quirky hangout—The Vault, Planet Nine, The Blue Lamp, The Moose—turned into another empty space, another empty building.

Reno Live, Reno’s largest nightclub, may be next, but not for financial reasons or lack of patrons. After receiving a series of complaints from patrons who claim that security guards used excessive force in removing them from the club, Reno police are calling for the revocation of Reno Live’s business license.

Now, I’ll admit that Reno Live often lacks civility. While I went to Reno Live on a regular basis the first year it was open, I did not go for the charming company. Like most large clubs, Reno Live attracts all kinds. In general, people behave themselves, but inevitably there’s the guy who hits on women a bit too overtly, the guy who gets a bit too loud or the girl who gets a bit too drunk. At times, I wanted to forcibly expel some of the patrons myself.

Of course, patron belligerence does not excuse the guards’ alleged behavior, which includes hitting and kicking patrons. If there had been only a handful of incidences, police may not have been as concerned. But there have been 14 complaints since last March, according to a Reno Gazette-Journal story. Security guards have been accused of everything from spitting in faces to causing serious head injuries.

Reno Live owner Brent Gramanz said that this is not an unusual number of incidents for a nightclub the size of Reno Live. That’s one to two incidents per month, and since between 5,000 to 8,000 patrons pass through Reno Live in that same time, the chances of a tussle between security guards and club-goers are one in a couple thousand.

“[Police reaction] is an over-exaggeration at this point,” Gramanz said.

In the meantime, Reno Live management is not simply sitting around waiting to go out of business.

“We’re investigating the allegations one by one,” general manager Ray Salaho said. “We have most on tape. [The guards] haven’t done anything to the extreme [on these tapes], like beating someone up, but there is more to investigate.”

Gramanz added that he is always looking for ways to improve Reno Live and that any help from Reno police is welcome. Gramanz said that he first heard of the allegations through local media; police have yet to notify him about any of the incidents.

“We would like, if there is only one incident, [that police] would be on the phone to us,” Gramanz said. “This type of operation is new to them and new to us. We’re learning as we go.”

Salaho agreed that more communication with police would be welcome.

“We would have loved it if we heard about it from the police and worked on it with the police,” he said.

One former club-goer said that he was involved in a scuffle with guards a year and a half ago, when a fight broke out between two patrons. In an attempt to break up the fight, guards were grabbing one of the patrons around the neck and kicking him in the knees.

“One guy was bleeding on the head, and I don’t remember the fight getting that serious,” said the club-goer, who asked not to be named. “They were being too rough with them.”

When the club-goer approached the guards and told them “to lighten up,” one guard pushed him back and shoved him with a nightstick, he said.

Reno police and the club’s management agree that patrons are almost always intoxicated in these situations, and so patron allegations can be hard to prove. Reno Live staff has taken plenty of abuse from drunken club-goers themselves, Salaho said.

“On certain cases, they turn back on us; they slap us, spit on us, basically assault our staff,” Salaho said. “We have no choice but to arrest them, take them down physically, so of course, when they leave the building they say, ‘They beat us up.’ [But] there’s always the other side of the story.”

Perhaps nothing will come of the allegations, and business will go on as usual at Reno Live. Or maybe a better means of communication between police and Reno Live management will result.

In the worst case, Reno Live would soon be dark and silent on Saturday nights, yet another victim of the shutdown plague that pervades Reno.