Increase in Oak Harbor bar violence sparks concern
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
December 19, 2012 · Updated 12:25 PM
Oak Harbor officials are concerned about a series of violence incidents — including a fatality — associated with bars in Oak Harbor over the last few months, but are finding solutions elusive.
In four incidents, alcohol-fueled attacks allegedly lead to someone getting seriously injured after being punched in the head and falling to the ground.
“We are very concerned,” said Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley. “I don’t know what we can do to rectify it, but it’s on our radar screen.”
A memorial was held last week for 23-year-old Oak Harbor resident Christopher Cooper. He was found unconscious in a parking on Pioneer Way Nov. 17 after being punched at least once, according to the Island County Prosecutor’s Office. He passed away Nov. 29.
Cooper had been at the Element nightclub earlier that night and was allegedly in an altercation there.
Oak Harbor resident Tyson Boon was punched outside of Mi Pueblo in downtown Oak Harbor in September. The assault left Boon unconscious with a fractured skull and a brain hemorrhage that he’s still recovering from.
On Nov. 29, 31-year-old Zigmund Berg was attacked outside of Applebee’s on Highway 20. Oak Harbor resident Odie J. Cook, 30, allegedly punched Berg in the head several times, causing him to fall to the ground and lose consciousness.
Prosecutors charged Cook in Island County Superior Court with second-degree assault.
Then on Dec. 5, police were called to the Football Bat Sports Bar and Grill in Oak Harbor. Matthew Davison, a 23-year-old Oak Harbor man, allegedly punched a fellow patron, 28-year-old Jerry Zimmerman of Oregon. The blow knocked Zimmerman unconscious and broke his jaw, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he was so alarmed at the number of assaults that he proposed in an email to city officials that a task force be created to deal with “the rising problem of ethanol-fueled brawls.”
“Several recent incidents that focused our attention on what appears to be a volatile combination of over-serving and aggressive patrons at some of Oak Harbor’s drinking establishments,” he wrote. “Too often the outcome of this mix is unnecessary violence and horrible injuries.”
Oak Harbor Police Chief Ed Green said his officers are focusing on the problem of alcohol-fueled violence, but there are no silver bullets. He said the officers are working with the Liquor Control Board to ensure there’s no over-service, service to minors or other violations going on at the bars. He said he’s advocating that officers patrol of foot or on bicycle in the downtown business area.
In addition, Green said he's moving the office toward more community-oriented policing. He wants to encourage the formation of neighborhood watch groups and plans to create a pro-active officer position that will target such problems as bar-related violence.
"I need (people) to feel comfortable going out in the community, whether it's 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning," he said.
Green said he doesn't know what's behind the recent spike in alcohol-fueled violence. He said his detectives heard rumors of a local fight club that encourages men to pick bar fights, but they have no evidence that it's real.
Green said the number of DUI arrests have declined this year, which would seem to point to more responsible drinking.
Green said city officials are considering the possibility of a task force, but nothing has been decided.
Mike Kummerfeldt, the owner of the Element night club, said the frequency of fights inside the club have declined after he hired extra security staff and installed surveillance equipment.
"We're doing a better job of stopping problems before it escalates," he said.
Of course, the bouncers can't stop all fights, especially when they happen outside.
"I don't know why it's happening," he said of series of assaults. "I just hope it's a coincidence and not part of a pattern."
Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.