Trinity owner characterizes interaction with Martese Johnson, refutes claims of racist policy

Badke describes Johnson as sober, cordial when refused from bar

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Interactions between third-year College student Martese Johnson and bouncers outside Trinity Irish Pub Tuesday night were cordial and fairly standard, Trinity owner Kevin Badke said in a limited exclusive interview with The Cavalier Daily. Badke said Johnson “seemed sober,” and refuted claims that Trinity’s bouncers were especially antagonistic toward Johnson or treated him differently because of his race.

Badke sought to shed light on the period immediately before Johnson was apprehended by special agents from Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control. Graphic cellphone pictures and a video which shows three agents holding Johnson to the ground have prompted a state investigation into whether the agents used excessive force in an encounter which left Johnson with 10 stitches.

Photo: Julia Horowitz

Upon being denied entry, Johnson did not raise his voice and “just seemed disappointed he didn’t get in,” Badke said.

Badke, who was periodically working the door as a bouncer Tuesday night due to a high volume of patrons on St. Patrick’s Day and notification that ABC would be monitoring the establishment, said he personally checked Johnson’s identification. Their interaction was slightly longer than average because Johnson could not provide the correct zip code on his Illinois ID.

“He was in line, tried to give me his ID,” Badke said. “I looked at it, and the only thing I looked at was the zipcode — because through ABC training that we’ve had as a liquor licensed business, one of the things you want to ask is certain questions about the ID...Before you even look at the photo or the birthdate, one of the things I ask...is their zipcode. And he gave me the wrong zip code.”

Badke said that Johnson, likely realizing his mistake, explained that he had moved. At this point, Badke, who also from the south side of Chicago, says he and Johnson had a brief conversation about where Johnson had gone to high school before he reiterated that he could not provide entry.

Badke said that because the ID was already “in doubt,” he did not look at the date of birth or photo on the ID, and could not confirm it was Johnson’s state-issued ID.

“He grabbed his ID and walked away — it was business as usual,” Badke said. “I went back to carding other patrons that were coming in, and then I heard a commotion. I turned around, and he was on the ground.”

Badke said he did not see the initial confrontation between Johnson and the ABC officers, which occurred after Johnson took back his ID and walked northwest up University Avenue, but that it occurred “only a few moments, maybe a minute” after he left Trinity. The confrontation did not take place directly in front of the bar, but rather about 30 feet up the street.

Badke said he did not speak or interact with the ABC agents following his interaction with Johnson. A week prior, Badke said ABC notified him that the bar would be receiving extra scrutiny on St. Patrick's Day “because they were of Irish heritage.”

This description of events largely matches the one provided by Daniel Watkins, Johnson’s lawyer, at a press conference Thursday evening. In a statement, Watkins also said discrepancies arose over the zip code on Johnson’s ID.

“Martese presented a valid Illinois state identification card, issued in 2011,” Watkins said. “The employee then asked Martese for a zip code and he recited his mother’s Chicago city zip code at her current address, which is different from the Chicago city zip code on the identification card, which was nearly four years old.”

According to Badke, Trinity’s policy is to enforce a strict 21-and-over policy after 10 p.m. on busy nights, typically Tuesday through Saturday, with the exception of private events. When the bar is at capacity — 271 total — the bar lets patrons in on a “one in, one out” basis. At peak hours, between 12 and 1 a.m., interactions at the door tend to be brief, so as to expedite the process for those waiting in line. At no point in time are patrons profiled based on race, gender, sexual orientation or national origin, he said.

Based on his own estimates, Badke spent extra time scrutinizing about three dozen IDs Tuesday night, and turned away roughly 25 percent. To keep students who may want to use false IDs in check, Badke said it is Trinity’s policy to give IDs extra scrutiny at random — “just like airport security.”

Badke said his interaction with Johnson was roughly 20 seconds long, and was only about 10 seconds longer than a typical interaction between bouncer and patron.

Questions over whether Trinity profiles patrons at the door have developed since former Trinity employee Dante DeVito, a 2014 Commerce graduate, alleged it is company policy to ask minority patrons for an extra form of identification.

“If they didn’t look like the stereotypical college student or they were a minority, we were required to scrutinize them a little closer,” DeVito told The Cavalier Daily Thursday. “I hated doing it. It was super racist. I would get called out on it all the time…it really bothered me. I would check 20 IDs, and if the 21st was a black guy, I would have to ask for a student ID.”

Badke and his lawyer, Cheri Lewis of Lewis Law Offices, vehemently deny these claims.

“Comments made by a previous employee by the name of Dante DeVito that Trinity instructs its management to scrutinize persons of color for entry, are patently false,” a statement released Saturday read. “Mr. DeVito was employed by Trinity for six months and was terminated by management for cause. His comments are those of a disgruntled former employee and are not accurate.”

Badke said that Trinity employs staff of all races, and does not tolerate profiling or discrimination.

“Our current head of security is African American,” Badke said. “Over the years, we’ve had five heads of security. Three of them have been African American. I take huge offense to that.”

DeVito, reached for comment Saturday, said he was never officially fired and stopped working for Trinity of his own accord as he neared graduation. He said that while Trinity did not have an official policy of discriminating based upon race, regular profiling occurred as part of management’s efforts to cater to certain clientele.

“We kind of just were trying to create a certain brand around Trinity,” DeVito said. “We didn’t want to have a lot of townies in the bar...in doing that, we would discriminate against minorities...The way we would do that was by asking for student IDs.”

On Tuesday night, prior to Johnson’s arrest, Badke said the ABC agents monitoring the bar told him the establishment was complying with state policy.

“They were outside along University Avenue looking into the establishment,” Badke said. “[They were] standing against the bike rack. I spoke with them. They said we were doing a great job, happy with what our employees were doing, going through procedure in a good way. They said the reason they were still hanging out was to make sure there ‘wasn’t a riot.’ That was an exact quote.”

Badke said he has seen ABC agents make arrests outside Trinity in the past, but that he has never seen an apprehension become physical.

According to the official ABC docket, Trinity is scheduled to appear at an Apr. 1 hearing for three infractions: sold to intoxicated person, allowed consumption by intoxicated persons, and establishment so illuminated agents prevented from ready access/observation. The ABC agent listed on the docket for Trinity’s infractions is J.B. Miller, the same agent who filed Johnson’s warrant of arrest.

— Chloe Heskett contributed reporting to this article.

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