Bar can be sued for attack on Black man, Michigan court says

Ed White
Associated Press

A northern Michigan bar can be sued by a Black man who said he was twice attacked by a white customer because of his race, the state Court of Appeals said.

Employees at BS & Co., a bar in Wolverine in Cheboygan County, had a duty to call police but failed to act after Ed Tyson suffered the first punches, the court said Thursday.

Tyson, the only Black resident in the tiny village, said he was called a racial slur and slugged repeatedly by David Dawkins when he tried to pick up a pizza in 2015. He suffered frontal lobe brain damage and bleeding on the brain.

BS & Co. bar is in Wolverine, Michigan, in Cheboygan County.

“A jury might also conclude that had Dawkins learned that the police were called after the first assault, he would not have felt emboldened to engage in the second assault,” the appeals court said.

The attacks occurred just outside the front door, but the appeals court said the location doesn’t change its conclusion.

“A reasonable jury could conclude that because defendant’s bar patrons congregated out front on the sidewalk on bike nights and flowed in and out of the bar on a regular basis while temporarily leaving their drinks at the bar, the area around the front entrance was effectively defendant’s premises,” Judges Jane Beckering and Douglas Shapiro said.

Judge David Sawyer didn’t join the 10-page opinion but said he agreed with the result.

“This case comes to this court at a critical time in this nation’s quest to achieve racial justice. Make no mistake about it: What happened in this case was appalling and it is shocking to the conscience,” Tyson’s attorney, George Sinas, told the appeals court in February.

Jeffrey Gerish, an attorney for the bar owner, said Unthank LLC agrees that “racial violence is abhorrent.” But he argued there should be no liability because Tyson was attacked outside the door.

“There’s people all over the place when this is happening. … Why would the duty (to call police) fall on Unthank and not anybody else who happened to be around?” Gerish said.

The court reversed the decision of Cheboygan County Judge Scott Pavlich. In a separate matter, Dawkins was convicted of aggravated assault.