Shortly after Westyn Hamilton got into a fight in the early morning hours of Jan. 2, 2000, bouncers carried him outside of the New West/Gotham nightclub, and the heavy metal doors leading to the alley behind the bar slammed shut behind them.
A few minutes later, Hamilton lay dead on the pavement. The primary witnesses to what happened to him were the bouncers.
Pima County Medical Examiner Bruce Parks would later document 54 injuries to Hamilton's body.
On April 5, 2000, he would rule the cause of death as restraint asphyxia, a little understood medical phenomenon that results in sudden death when an overly exerted person, often under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is restrained in such a way as to impair their ability to breath. No drugs were found in Hamilton's body and only a relatively small amount of alcohol was detected.
Parks would cite the bouncer's statements to detectives that they simply tried to hold Hamilton to the ground as playing a significant role in his ruling the cause of death restraint asphyxia.
Three days after Parks released his autopsy findings, Deputy Pima County Attorney Ken Peasley publicly announced that criminal charges would not be filed in the case. Peasley said in an interview that the bouncers' statements claiming they didn't do anything wrong, combined with the autopsy results and a lack of independent witnesses, led him to his decision not to prosecute anyone for Hamilton's death.
But new information unearthed by private investigators and attorneys in the course of a subsequent civil suit filed by Hamilton's family, as well as interviews and documents obtained by the Northwest EXPLORER, raise new questions about the bouncers' claims that they simply tried to restrain Hamilton:
Complicating the investigation was the fact that the Marana Police Department, which was charged with locating and interviewing the bouncers and other witnesses, had worked closely with the bouncers under an off-duty work arrangement that paid MPD officers, detectives and the chief of police an estimated quarter of a million dollars over two and a half years. (see related story page 13)
New West/Gotham Bouncer James Conklin came forward to MPD detectives four days after Hamilton died and provided them with a blow-by-blow account of how he claimed the bouncers beat Hamilton to death. Later, Conklin would refuse to cooperate with police. Questions about Conklin's credibility, raised by an attorney for the New West/Gotham, would help snuff a subpoena issued by the the Pima County Attorney's Office that sought to pry loose the key witness' testimony. Witnesses that would have bolstered Conklin's account were never tracked down by MPD investigators.
Former New West/Gotham employee Jenna Wilcox said she was telephoned by bouncer Juan Ramirez the day after Hamilton died. According to Marana police reports, Ramirez allegedly told Wilcox, "We killed him. What are we going to do?" Ramirez also allegedly told Wilcox that fellow bouncer Charles Yeager and a man named "Shawn" beat Hamilton's head on the ground outside the bar. According to statements Ramirez gave police, he was working with fellow bouncer Sean Ferguson - Conklin's half brother - in Gotham the night Hamilton died. Neither Wilcox or Ferguson would ever be interviewed by Marana investigators or county prosecutors.
Two days before before Peasley publicly announced that no one would be prosecuted for Hamilton's death, the Hamilton family's attorney faxed to the county attorney's office the transcribed statement of Dana Hatfield, a seemingly crucial independent witness. Hatfield would tell a private investigator during the interview that she watched as an unidentified bouncer placed an unresisting Hamilton in a "choke hold" during the struggle outside the bar. Her account conflicted with the bouncers' statements to police that they simply pinned an enraged Hamilton to the ground. Hatfield was apparently never interviewed by police or prosecutors.
Parks said in a sworn deposition he gave in a civil suit brought by Hamilton's family that he drew his conclusion mainly from the autopsy and statements made by the bouncers. Under questioning by the Hamilton family's attorney about injuries to Hamilton's neck, Parks suggested strangulation could have been the cause of Hamilton's death or contributed to it.
"If I had found (Hamilton) unresponsive in a parking lot and had no … information about what had happened and had these findings, most people in my position I think would call that a strangulation or probable strangulation," Parks said.
Charles Yeager, a bouncer who was involved in restraining Hamilton inside the bar and later participated in the struggle outside where Hamilton died, allegedly demonstrated to a Marana police officer how he placed Hamilton in a "head lock" during the earlier attempt to restrain him. According to the officer's report, Yeager indicated he placed Hamilton's neck in the crook his arm. The bouncer later denied making the statement and told Marana detectives the police officer was "mistaken."
Despite the role the bouncers' statements played in the medical examiner's findings and the Pima County Attorney's Office decision not to file charges in the case, inconsistencies in the bouncers' statements to Marana police included their inability to identify who among them actually participated in restraining Hamilton, disagreements over who initially tackled him outside the bar, and conflicting accounts of what Hamilton's final words were.
Sources close to the investigation in both the Pima County Attorney's Office and the Marana Police Department said they doubted the bouncers' account of Hamilton's death, but were unsure of whom to charge in the case because of the amount of people involved in the struggle and the lack of independent witnesses.
Conklin also claimed other employees were "trying to get their stories straight" shortly after Hamilton's death and before being interviewed by police. Under questioning by MPD detectives, all of the bouncers denied there was any collusion, but Ramirez said he talked to two of the bouncers who struggled with Hamilton prior to their interviews by detectives.
In the course of its 18-month investigation, the Northwest EXPLORER was provided unfettered access to documents and sworn depositions from the case file that was compiled in the course of the civil suit. The file was provided by a source working in one the offices of the three attorneys who participated in the litigation. The source has asked not to be identified.
Named in the lawsuit filed Dec. 12, 2000 in Pima County Superior Court, were the New West/Gotham nightclub, the club's general manager Robert "Rob" Perez, Yeager, the Marana Police Department, and MPD officer Tom Gomez.
Perez and Yeager were two of the four or five nightclub employees who said they tried to restrain Hamilton. Conklin had told MPD detectives that he saw Perez and Yeager beat the 23-year-old Tucson man.
The Hamilton family's lawsuit never reached trial. Attorneys for the New West/Gotham agreed to settle the allegations of negligence and wrongful death for a reported $1 million on March 19, 2001. The settlement was reached without the defendants admitting any wrongdoing.
On March 20, 2001 the Marana Town Council voted unanimously to pay Hamilton's survivors $15,000 to settle the claim that Gomez may have contributed to Hamilton's death by not taking prompt action when he arrived at the scene. The accusations made against Gomez were raised by bouncers and other employees of the nightclub as they were interviewed by detectives investigating Hamilton's death.
What follows is a reexamination of the circumstances surrounding Hamilton's death in light of new information that has surfaced since April 5, 2000, when prosecutors announced no one would be charged in Hamilton's death.
The General Facts
Hamilton arrived at the Gotham portion of the New West/Gotham/Hooters complex in Marana shortly after midnight on Jan. 2, 2000 with his friend Rob Tatum, a 23-year-old assistant basketball coach at Salpointe Catholic High School, according to the transcript of a police interview of Tatum.
Tatum said he had been friends with Hamilton for 15 years and was godfather to Hamilton's 3-year old son. He would tell police he last saw Hamilton shortly after 1:30 a.m. when Hamilton said he needed to to use the restroom, and then moved off across the dance floor. Tatum and other witnesses said Hamilton was in good spirits and "kind of danced off" through the crowd. They would not see him alive again.
The bar stopped serving alcohol at 1 a.m., but generally stayed open until 2 a.m. to allow the huge crowds the popular nightclub drew to dissipate. Perez would tell investigators about 1,500 people had passed through the club the night Hamilton died. He estimated 400 to 500 remained inside the building when a fight was first reported at about 1:40 a.m.
Patrons and club employees said Hamilton became engaged in a scuffle near the disc jockey booth in Gotham, and was wrestling on the dance floor with a man who was never positively identified by police.
At least five of the 14 bouncers that were working at the club that night responded to the "911" - the bouncers' code for a fight - which went out over the radios that many of the bouncers and managers carried, according to police reports.
As the bouncers tried to pull Hamilton and the other man apart, a third man reportedly broke through the bouncers and onlookers who circled the fight and kicked Hamilton in the lower back.
Other employees told police Hamilton was kicked in the back by one man and was stomped on the head by another man.
One employee trying to break up the scuffle said he did not see Hamilton being stomped or kicked by any patrons, while another bouncer failed to report it in his initial statement to police, then during a follow-up interview a week later, told detectives he did remember it.
The kicking and stomping would account for two significant injuries found on Hamilton during the autopsy - a large contusion to his head and damage to his face, and a significant bruise on his back. Despite the sizable crowd of patrons watching the fight, virtually all the eyewitness accounts of the man or men kicking Hamilton came from the bouncers or other employees of the New West/Gotham, according to the case files held by both the Pima County Attorney's Office and the Marana Police Department.
Police never positively identified the man or men who reportedly kicked Hamilton as he lay on the floor restrained by at least two bouncers.
One bouncer told police he walked the man Hamilton had initially scuffled with to the door and told him to leave and the man did so peacefully. Neither that man, or either of the patrons who allegedly kicked or stomped Hamilton, were positively identified, according to police reports.
Bouncers involved in breaking-up the initial struggle told investigators it was the nightclub's policy to ask for a driver's license or other identification from people caught fighting in order to ban them from the club.
The bouncers said they failed to do get identification from the two or three men involved in the fighting with Hamilton because the scene had become too chaotic.
According to the bouncers' and patrons' statements to police, Hamilton was struggling and yelling as four or five bouncers restrained him. Four bouncers said they lifted him in the air, carried him feet-first through Gotham and into the New West portion of the building. He was taken outside through a service entrance known as the "rodeo doors" and placed on the ground.
Three or four bouncers, a "bar-back" who stocked one of the club's bars with alcohol, and Perez, the club's manager, stood in front of Hamilton after he was placed on the ground.
The bouncers, Conklin and patrons who could see through the still open doorway said Hamilton quickly rose and punched Matthew Van Dielen in the head, opening a gash above the bar-back's eye. Van Dielen's cut required five interior and 14 exterior stitches to close when he was treated later at Northwest Hospital, according to police records.
Two patrons and some of the bouncers who carried Hamilton out of the club said the door was slammed shut by one of the bouncers shortly after Van Dielen was struck.
The Bouncer's Account
Most of the bouncers involved in the final struggle with Hamilton outside the New West/Gotham gave three statements to Marana detectives in the course of the three month police investigation. Shortly after they arrived, MPD patrol officers provided the bouncers with forms and instructed them to write statements describing what had happened. Detectives who were called out to the bar a few hours after Hamilton died would tape record short interviews with the bouncers until daylight.
The MPD detectives would later have Michael Piccarreta, the New West/Gotham's attorney, arrange to have the bouncers made available for follow-up interviews. The more extensive, and final, interviews were conducted at the New West/Gotham's corporate office behind the bar on four different occasions between Jan. 7 and Feb. 3 of 2000. Yeager, Perez and Van Dielen would also give depositions for the civil suit more than a year later.
The bouncers statements all reflected their belief that they did nothing but tackle Hamilton and hold him to the ground. They told detectives and attorneys in the civil suit repeatedly that no one from New West/Gotham punched, choked or kicked Hamilton at any time.
Despite the external bruising to Hamilton's neck and internal damage to his carotid artery discovered during the autopsy, all of the bouncers denied that they themselves had ever touched Hamilton's neck during the struggle. Some police and bouncer's reports, however, cite different employees having hold of Hamilton's neck at differing times during the struggle.
Parks, in his deposition for the civil suit, said the damage to Hamilton's neck he discovered during the autopsy was an "important finding."
Petechiae, pin-point hemorrhages found in Hamilton's eyes and on his skin, were also possibly indicative of a death by strangulation, he said.
Parks said there was also a possibility the petechiae may have been caused by chest compressions done by a police officer and paramedics who tried to revive Hamilton.
Parks told the attorneys he was likely to discount the idea of a death by strangulation based on the bouncer's statements to police.
"But in light of everyone else saying that he was responsive and moving around while he was being held on the ground, with no mention of neck pressure being applied at that time, led me to believe that was not a main consideration, assuming everyone was telling me … was saying the truth in their statements," Parks said.
Marana Police officer Lanell Garbini, who arrived at the bar shortly after Hamilton died, assisted with gathering witness statements. She noted in her police report that Yeager had told her he placed a restraint on Hamilton's neck.
"It should be noted that on Jan. 2, 2000, while speaking to Charles Yeager, a bouncer at the New West, he informed me that he had put Westyn Hamilton in a 'head lock' at some point while in the club. Yeager demonstrated this to me by gesturing with his arm. When demonstrating how he performed the 'head lock,' his elbow was in a bent position as if around a person's neck," Garbini wrote in her report.
During a follow up interview with MPD detectives and Piccarreta, Yeager claimed the officer was mistaken, and said Van Dielen, the bar back that was later punched by Hamilton outside, had Hamilton in a "head and neck lock" as he was carried out of Gotham.
"No, at no point (had) I said that," Yeager told MPD Detective Randi Davis when asked about the MPD officer's report. "That actually very much pisses me off because I saw that in the (news)paper. That's very upsetting. At no point did I tell any officer that … I don't know what that officer is confusing that with. I know that Matt V. had, when we carried him out, Matt V. had him in a head and neck lock …"
Van Dielen, in his interview with detectives, denied Yeager's claim.
Conklin told detectives he watched as Perez choked Hamilton, which Perez flatly denied in all of his interviews.
Regardless of the sheer volume of statements exacted from the bouncers and other bar employees, exactly who participated in restraining Hamilton, or who was even outside with him, also remains unclear to this day.
The only employees who seemed to be indisputably outside and admit struggling with Hamilton were Perez and Yeager, even though almost all the bouncers claim three to four employees participated in the final restraint, with as many as six people outside with Hamilton during his final moments, according to a comparison of all the bouncer statements made to police.
Perez, 27, had been the general manager of the New West/Gotham for five years. He told MPD Detective Randi Davis in his Jan. 10, 2000 statement that he and other bouncers tackled Hamilton to the ground after Van Dielen was struck.
Davis: "Okay, do you remember which other (bouncers) participated in taking him back to the ground besides yourself?"
Perez: "Besides myself, I know it was … Charles was there, Charles Yeager, and I think, I'm not quite sure, but I think it was (Pago) Lemalu and Steve (Reyna.) There … there … there was was like six of us out there, six or so of us," Perez said.
Perez was not pressed to identify any of the other six employees outside with Hamilton during the interview. In his initial statement he said "he believed that bouncer Scott Thompson" also participated.
In contrast to Perez's statements to police that other bouncers helped him tackle Hamilton, Yeager told detectives Perez took Hamilton to the ground alone.
"He just basically took him to the ground in the most expedient manner," Yeager said of Perez.
Bouncer Pago Lemalu told investigators Perez, Yeager, bouncer Scott Thompson and himself took Hamilton to the ground, while bouncer Jason Jarvis claimed he, Perez and bouncer Harold "Hoss" Salivar tackled Hamilton.
Exactly how Hamilton was held once he was taken to the ground also produced conflicting responses from the bouncers interviewed by police.
Perez claimed Hamilton was held on his side, and that he laid across Hamilton's shoulders to keep him pinned to the ground, while security manager Pago Lemalu held Hamilton's legs, and Yeager restrained his wrists.
Yeager claimed he grabbed Hamilton's wrist and Lemalu held his legs once Perez had taken Hamilton to the ground.
Bouncer Steve Reyna told detectives in his first interview that he was outside but did not participate in the struggle with Hamilton. He said he watched Perez, Yeager and one other employee he couldn't identify tackle Hamilton and pin him to the ground. He knelt beside the struggle for a few moments then went inside to wash blood off his hands that he said came from the patron who had struggled with Hamilton inside the bar.
Reyna would say in his Jan. 14, 2000 interview with Piccarreta and the detectives that bouncers David Scott Thompson and Lemalu were inside. Reyna claimed bouncer Harold "Hoss" Salivar held Hamilton's legs, Yeager restrained his arms, and Perez laid across Hamilton's upper torso as Hamilton was face-down on the ground.
Salivar, 19, claimed in his short written witness statement "… They set (Hamilton) down on the ground and he started yelling at my fellow employees and struck at one. Then two (bouncers) grabbed his arms. I pushed him down to the ground and grabbed a leg because he was struggling, trying to get up. Rob was on his head, Lemalu had the other leg. When he calmed down, I let go of his leg and went back inside," Salivar said.
Despite being a participant in the struggle, and giving an account that differed from other bouncers' versions, no other statements by or interviews with Salivar were found in either the county attorney's office files or MPD's records.
Although he was only inches from another bouncer holding Hamilton's other leg, Lemalu told detectives he was unsure of the identity of the bouncer. He first claimed it was Thompson. When Lemalu was told by detectives Thompson was inside, he then said he believed it was Harold "Hoss" Salivar restraining Hamilton's other leg.
Thompson claimed he assisted Van Dielen into the bar immediately after the bar-back was punched and did not witness or participate in the struggle.
Yeager, Perez and Lemalu would tell investigators that Hamilton screamed obscenities and continued to struggle violently as they pinned him to the asphalt. All three of the employees would describe Hamilton as going limp just a matter of seconds before the first MPD officer arrived in response to the 911 telephone call by employees of a fight behind the bar.
In their final interviews with detectives, Yeager, Perez and Lemalu would give three distinctly different strings of yelled obscenities that they purported to be Hamilton's last words.
An employee who observed but didn't participate in the struggle outside with Hamilton, Shane Bustamante, told investigators Hamilton said little and mostly "groaned."
Conklin claimed Hamilton moaned and had tears in his eyes.
James Conklin's Account
James Richard Conklin, 35, had only worked at the New West nightclub for about two weeks when he claimed he watched his fellow bouncers "murder" Hamilton.
Conklin called Marana police Jan. 6, 2000 - four days after Hamilton died - and agreed to sit for a videotaped interview with detectives that same day.
The Pima Community College business student told police he witnessed the bouncers administer a brutal beating to Hamilton as he watched from a partially open doorway.
Conklin told detectives he was providing them with his statement on his own initiative because he was "tired of lying and covering up."
He also claimed his job at the New West/Gotham had been threatened because he questioned what happened to Hamilton.
Conklin's version of the interior struggle and Hamilton striking Van Dielen outside were consistent with other witness statements, but diverged significantly from the other bouncers' accounts after Van Dielen was hit.
"They wrestled him to the ground and Steve was punching him in the back of the head and Jason was kicking him in the back … and then the guy was thrown up against the wall and Jason kicked him in the stomach … and Rob said 'next time we're going to f--- you up' … Rob had him by the neck and Yeager had his arms … and then Rob punched him three times in the face …," Conklin told detectives.
At least three New West/Gotham employees told detectives they never saw Conklin standing near the doorway during the fight with Hamilton.
Despite Conklin's account matching bruises and abrasions found by Parks on Hamilton's head, face, neck and back and other locations, Conklin's refusal to cooperate with police, combined with an amended statement given to the New West/Gotham's attorney, would destroy his credibility for prosecutors. (See related story page 13)
Conklin's statements about what happened to Hamilton outside the bar were in conflict with the accounts given police by the bouncers who struggled with Hamilton.
But other statements that Conklin gave to police could have been verified by "independent" witnesses, and helped clarify Conklin's credibility while at the same time shedding light on the behavior and mind set of the bouncers who were involved in the struggle with Hamilton.
While several of the bouncers described a grim and solemn mood that descended over the employees after Hamilton was rushed from the scene by paramedics, Conklin told police the bouncers were "bragging" and "giving each other high fives."
Conklin claimed the bragging by some of the bouncers extended into the days after Hamilton died, and listening to it at work contributed to his decision to go forward to police.
"Steve was bragging about the punching in the head, Yeager was bragging about, I don't mean to curse, but … he said 'that f----- should have died some more.' He said it was 'kill or be killed' … They just wouldn't stop, they wouldn't shut up," Conklin said.
Conklin told the detectives the alleged boasting, and possibly incriminating statements, were made to counselors from a stress management team that was brought to the bar by its management for employees two days after Hamilton died.
"When the the stress management team came in they, Yeager, said 'I'll kill him again if I had to.' He personally said that to the stress management guy. 'I'll kill him again if I had to,'" Conklin said.
No interviews of members of the stress management team were located by the Northwest EXPLORER in either the case files of the Marana Police Department or the Pima County Attorney's Office.
In all, MPD investigators questioned 16 people who were not employees of the New West/Gotham nightclub, according to records in the Pima County Attorney's Office. One witness apparently was never located or interviewed by Marana police, but was identified by James Dyer, the Hamilton family's attorney. The majority of people interviewed were patrons who saw only the initial struggle inside the bar. At least two patrons could see the beginning of the struggle outside the bar until the door was slammed shut. Three witnesses were provided by Piccarreta, the bar's attorney, including one who said he watched nearly all of the struggle outside the bar. Hamilton's parents, who were not at the club when Hamilton died, were interviewed for background information about their son.
Dana Hatfield, 33, was the witness that apparently was never interviewed by the MPD detectives or the Pima County Attorney's Office. No record of her being contacted was ever found in Marana Police files, and a Hamilton detective didn't recognize her name.
Ken Peasley, the prosecutor in the County Attorney's Office should have been aware of Hatfield. A copy of an interview conducted by a private investigator working for Dyer was faxed to the Pima County Attorney's Office on April 5, 2000 - two days before Peasley publicly announced that no charges would be leveled in the case. The fax was located in the county's investigative file.
Dyer declined to be interviewed, and his investigator, Randy Durnal, could not be reached for comment.
In the taped interview conducted March 24, 2000, Hatfield told Durnal that she had walked outside the bar to calm down after she had an argument with her date.
"I could see him moving but it didn't look like he was struggling, like fighting back," Hatfield said of Hamilton. "It looked like he was just moving. There was more than one person around him and anytime someone has you down like that, you're not going to be completely still. It's not going to be comfortable."
Hatfield said she watched for less than a minute, but noted one man was on top of Hamilton.
"It looked like he was kneeling over and had an arm around his neck like he was trying to subdue him, but he really didn't look like he was really struggling enough to be subdued," Hatfield told Durnal.
Hatfield said she had worked as a bartender for several years in Arizona and North Carolina, including some that catered to "rough" crowds such bikers and Marines.
"I think they were rougher than they needed to be," Hatfield said in the interview.
Dan Wilcox called Marana police Jan. 4, 2000 and said he had "third party information" about Hamilton's death.
Wilcox told MPD Detective Randi Davis that his daughter, Jenna Wilcox, had told him she had received a phone call from a bouncer after Hamilton died. Jenna Wilcox would later identify the bouncer as Juan Ramirez.
"(Dan) Wilcox had further stated that this employee had made statements to (Jenna Wilcox) that 'We killed him. What are we going to do?'" Davis wrote in a police report. "(Dan) Wilcox stated that the employee had also made comments as to two other employees, Rob Perez and 'Shawn' striking the individual's head against the ground repeatedly. This subject had also told that the other employee, Yeager, had been bragging about breaking the individual's arm."
According to statements given by other employees, and an employee roster the bar's management provided to investigators, the only bouncer named "Shawn" assigned to the Gotham the night Hamilton was killed was Sean Ferguson - Conklin's half-brother, who was never interviewed by detectives.
Davis was told by Dan Wilcox that his daughter had worked at the New West/Gotham until two weeks prior to Hamilton's death. He said his daughter did not want to get involved because Ramirez was a friend.
The next day, Davis was paged by Jenna Wilcox.
"Jenna advised me she did want to talk to me as Juan Ramirez is a good friend and she did not want to betray his trust," Davis said in a police report. "I advised Jenna that I still needed to speak with her and asked that she meet with me for an interview. Jenna advised that she would recontact me with a date and time."
There is no record in either the MPD investigator's file or the file compiled by the Pima County Attorney's Office that Jenna Wilcox was ever reinterviewed.
A Marana detective who worked the Hamilton case confirmed Wilcox was never reinterviewed.
"Jenna Wilcox vanished from the face of the earth. We were never able to track her down," the detective said.
The detective asked not to be identified.
Piccarreta faxed the detectives a statement in late January 2000, after Ramirez's interview, that was reportedly from Wilcox's supervisor at the New West/Gotham. The supervisor indicated Wilcox had told her she had taken a job at Old Tucson Studios and would not be able to give notice of her intention to resign. Piccarreta's memo that accompanied the statement said Wilcox was actually fired for taking the other job, and it was an indication that Wilcox was "obviously bitter" toward the nightclub.
The detectives did broach the subject of Jenna Wilcox with Ramirez during an interview, noting the allegation that Ramirez had told Wilcox that "we" killed Hamilton, and that Perez and "Sean" had beat his head on the ground.
"For, for a fact, I … there's no way that I would have said that, Sean would beat his head, because I don't even know. I didn't even … for right now I don't, I don't even … I didn't even think Sean had anything to do with it," Ramirez said, according to an MPD transcript of the interview.
Ramirez admitted he had talked to Wilcox the morning after the death, but denied telling her anyone had beat Hamilton or that he was killed.
"The only thing I told her was that the guy (Hamilton) had died when he left, you know, the premises. And she asked me, she kept talking to me, I guess she had already heard about it. But she asked if four guys had did it or something like that, and what I said, what I just told her that Rob was out there too with them," Ramirez told the detectives.
Ramirez claimed in earlier interviews he never witnessed the altercation outside. He said he was told by Yeager that Perez was outside before they were interviewed by detectives, despite Yeager and other bouncer's assertions that they did not discuss the case before being interviewed by police at the scene.
No record exists in the Marana police department's or Pima County Attorney's files of Ferguson being interviewed, despite the fact that he was related to Conklin.
Conklin refused further cooperation with investigators after telling them in detail how he believed the bouncers had beat Hamilton to death.
Randall Korth was a 26-year-old bar patron who contacted police on his own initiative two days after Hamilton died. On Jan. 5, 2000, he was interviewed by detectives and said he had witnessed Hamilton being carried face down by "five or six bouncers" from the club.
"I think the guy was, you know, fighting. I don't know if they were choking him or what. I just know that they … he was trying to get loose, basically," Korth said.
Korth told detectives Hamilton was carried through the double doors, and he couldn't recall if Hamilton was still being carried or had been dropped to the ground when a bouncer slammed the door closed.
"I don't remember if they dropped him or they still had his arms. And at that time that's when one of the bouncers came and he shut the door. Because I remember distinctly hearing the door shut. They grabbed it like that, there's two double doors that you push, and grabbed it and shut it real loud, so I could still hear it. And then a couple of times the bouncers came in and out, but they basically opened the door just enough to get them through into the club and then they shut it," Korth said.
Korth was interviewed the day before Conklin came forward to police and said he watched from the door as Hamilton was beaten to death. No follow-up interviews with Korth were found in the MPD or county attorney's records, and he was apparently never asked by detectives if he had seen anyone matching Conklin's description at the club door.
About 10 minutes later Korth said he was driving away from the club and observed Hamilton face down on the ground. Korth said police had arrived, but paramedics had not.
Jason Waln, 26, was a patron whose story was similar to the account given by Korth.
Some of Waln's friends who were with him at the New West/Gotham Jan. 2, 2000, provided his name to the MPD investigators as a witness.
Waln said in an interview January 5, 2000 that he watched Hamilton being carried by the bouncers through the doors and dropped on the ground. He said the doors remained open and he saw Hamilton swing at one of the employees, but could not tell if the punch connected. Waln said he watched through the still open doorway as Hamilton was "tackled' by an unknown number of bouncers.
"The door stayed open, one of the bouncers noticed the door was open, jumped off the pile (and) came screaming obscenities to close the door, um, slammed the door. The next thing that I remember is there was a thud up against those double doors," Waln said.
None of the bouncers involved in the struggle or Conklin reported anyone "thudding" up against the double doors.
No record was found in any of the law enforcement investigative files of Waln being reinterviewed by police or asked if he had seen Conklin or anyone else inside near the door.
Several other patrons who were with Waln were also interviewed by police. Their information was limited to seeing Hamilton carried toward the double doors.
Dustin Orr and Carl Puskavich were patrons located by Randy Downer, Piccarreta's private investigator. Orr later said in a deposition for the civil suit that he had told bouncer Pago Lemalu he was a witness, and Lemalu advised Piccarreta. Orr said he had known Lemalu since 1997 when both men worked at the Tucson Mall.
Both men told investigators they were were frequent patrons of the night club, and knew some of the other bouncers. Puskavich said he saw little of the struggle outside the bar. Orr claimed he watched almost all of the struggle and then wrote a statement at home the same morning at his mother's suggestion.
"Just in case anything like this happened," Orr later told Piccarreta's investigator.
Orr's account differed wildly from those given by the bouncers, Conklin or any of the independent witnesses.
Orr said in his deposition for the lawyers that he watched from outside as Hamilton was pushed out the doors, rather than carried. After striking Van Dielen, Orr said the bouncers tried to restrain Hamilton's hands behind his back. He described the ring on the Hamilton's hand that hit Van Dielen as being large enough to cover three fingers. The only ring found on Hamilton was a relatively small, Indian-head ring on one finger.
Orr later provided Downer with the written statement, and offered additional reasoning for typing it on his computer when he got home.
"That's the reason I did it, because, you know, I'm pretty much in defense of the Gotham for what happened because I didn't see any wrongdoing on their part," Orr told Downer in the tape recorded interview.
The Case is Closed
When Bruce Parks, Pima County's chief medical examiner, was interviewed by the Northwest EXPLORER in April 2000 shortly after he released Westyn Hamilton's final autopsy report, he said the 54 injuries to Hamilton's body were "consistent with the description of the struggle provided by the bouncers."
But under two days of questioning by attorneys for the New West/Gotham, Hamilton's family and the town of Marana, Parks would concede in a sworn deposition given in March as part of the civil lawsuit, that other scenarios were equally plausible, including strangulation or death by a brain injury.
None of the information would ever reach a jury.
Prosecutor Ken Peasley, saying he based his decision on the MPD investigation, Park's autopsy information and interviews, had already announced almost a year before that he would not criminally charge anyone for Hamilton's death.
In a letter faxed to Marana Police Chief David R. Smith April 4, 2000, Peasley summarized his view of the case.
"It appears there was an altercation within the New West in which Mr. Hamilton was involved. He was physically removed from the business. Once outside, Mr. Hamilton struck one of the bouncers. A struggle ensued during which Mr. Hamilton was taken to the ground and restrained.
The Marana Police Department was contacted. Immediately prior to the arrival of Marana police officers, or very soon thereafter, Mr. Hamilton stopped struggling and was in obvious physical distress. He died soon after.
"Mr. Hamilton's death is both sad and tragic. However, this case does not meet our charging standards and therefore no criminal charges will be filed in the case," Peasley's letter said.
The new information unearthed by James Dyer, the Hamilton family's attorney, likewise would never reach a jury. The announcement in March that the New West/Gotham and the town of Marana would settle in the civil suit, meant simply, that the case was closed - officially, a justifiable case of accidental death.
"Look, Hamilton was no angel, not by a long shot," said one of the four Marana detectives who worked the Hamilton case. "He went in there and he was acting like an a------, getting into a fight, fighting with the bouncers. But do I think that the bouncers were just simply trying to gently restrain him? No. He fired off on that employee and they kicked his ass. But who are you going to charge in that? Answer me that. Out of all those guys involved in it, how do you prove that this is the person that's responsible for Hamilton's death?"