Nowhere Bar death incident leads to bill filing in General Assembly on two-year anniversary

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by Ben Gierhart
he/him
ben@queerkentucky.com

In early January 2020, Christopher McKinney died after an altercation with a bouncer at Nowhere Bar Louisville. Since then, McKinney’s widower, Nick Clark has sought justice. The most recent of these attempts has been the creation of a new bill to establish minimum training requirements for security at bars and other retail establishments licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption. Dubbed Christopher’s Law, this bill, if passed, will serve as a widower’s loving memorial enshrined in the law of the land as well as preventing violent incidents like the one that killed Christopher.

Nowhere Bar Louisville

Clark, who did reach a settlement with Nowhere, was largely dissatisfied with the investigation of the incident.

“There was a search warrant from a judge who called for blood tests [to see if the bouncer was under the influence]. They never executed the search warrant, even though the bouncer admitted to being under the influence the night of the incident. There were three off-duty police officers working for Nowhere the night of the incident, and according to police records, a Nowhere bartender told LMPD the night of the incident that one of those off-duty officers had reprimanded the bouncer for bad behavior before. That same off-duty officer disappeared to go find the bouncer after the incident, where he was found in the back parking lot; however, there is no record or body camera footage of what was said during that conversation with the bouncer. Also, according to police records, there were multiple attempts to get surveillance footage from the bar. The only footage we were provided was not from LMPD, but from the bar after the investigation was already complete,” Clark says. “Christopher was in good spirits in the footage, but he was visibly intoxicated, could barely walk straight, and the bouncer even said Christopher wasn’t much trouble.”

Clark said he felt even more left in the dark regarding the case’s treatment of the official cause of death.

“There was one guy who said it was multiple punches, but then there are two main witnesses who said it was one punch to the left side of the head,” Clark said. “They stated it was a ‘knockout punch’ and that Christopher was ‘completely defenseless’ and that ‘nobody deserved to be treated like that.’”

Before the settlement of the case, the bouncer proffered a self-defense argument. Clark said the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office told Christopher’s family that the bouncer described Christopher as not a lot of trouble. He did not have to drag Christopher out, but that Christopher wasn’t walking normally, and he was visibly intoxicated.

Nick Clark (left) and Christopher McKinney (right) pose for a wedding photo

Clark continues to describe the account with the evidence he’s amassed.

“At some point, Christopher stopped, and the bouncer pushes him out the door of the bar, making Christopher’s phone drop to the ground,” he said. “The bouncer’s perception is that Christopher gets mad, he goes to pick it up and when he turns around, he said that it looks as if Christopher were going to swing, but he never made contact.”

According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine, in a letter dated August 10, 2020, he stated, “it is our opinion that the one blow will not meet the elements of either extreme indifference to human life or conduct which creates a grave risk of death or serious physical injury.”

“[That’s] ridiculous. So you’re telling me that they don’t believe one punch to the head can create serious physical injury? They didn’t even consult with the neurosurgeons who treated Christopher or anything. I have spoken with one of Christopher’s neurosurgeons from that night and also a longtime local neurosurgeon [unattached to the case], and they describe this as a very really possibility,” Clark said.

However, despite Clark finding no justice in the case, he has only kept himself busy. He reached out to Senate Minority Floor Leaser, Morgan McGarvey (D) who represents the Highlands in district 19. They started conversations, and he had obviously heard of the incident and wanted to help. That’s sort of how things got moving.

“I’ve also been working really closely with State Representative Lisa Willner (D) for helping to get Christopher’s Law drafted and filed in the House,” Clark said.

The first time the bill was filed was in January 2021, but the session ended before it could be made into law. It was filed and then it did get assigned to the Senate licensing and occupations committee, but it was towards the end of the session when time ran short. The 2022 version of Christopher’s Law will be filed on today, the two-year anniversary of Christopher’s death.

Clark and his team consulted with several organizations for feedback to give Christopher’s Law an even more viable chance of gaining support. As a summary of the bill currently reads, many of the changes that Clark and other proponents of Christopher’s Law wish to make to how bars currently operate their security seem to be common sense, such as prohibiting bouncers from drinking alcohol or being under the influence of any illegal substance while on duty.

The bill also calls for a standardized bouncer application as well as training.

“There are no hiring standards that exist for bouncers, and many bars hire by word of mouth, physical stature, and through social media,” said Clark.

The training proposed for bouncers would be created and administered by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, and must specifically include interpersonal communication techniques, de-escalation techniques, physical maneuvers that involve minimum application of physical force, emotional regulation techniques, and personal mental health evaluation. This training would expire every three years.

The final pieces of Christopher’s Law would create an incident report log that could be accessed by a potential employer when looking up an applicant’s previous experience as well as a mandate that law officers acting as bouncers when off duty not be allowed to participate in an investigation of a homicide or serious physical incident that occurred while acting as a bouncer. This part of the bill would serve to minimize bias in an investigation and is something that Clark opines especially would have been helpful in preventing how the investigation of his late husband’s death unfolded.

The exact next steps for Christopher’s Law are still being worked out, but Clark is hopeful. In the meantime, Clark has also teamed up with local filmmaker Zach Meiners of Chronicle Cinema on creating a documentary on the incident, the formation of Christopher’s Law, and the state of current bouncer hiring standards in general. “We have been filming for a little over a year, and should have a finished product by the end of 2022.”

There appears to be no limit to the amount of time and effort Clark is willing to put into his quest for justice.

“I’m going to do this because Christopher deserves it.” Queer people – all people – deserve it too.”

QueerKentucky has reached out to Nowhere Bar Louisville for further questions, but we have not been able to have a conversation before the bill filing date. This article will be updated and/or a subsequent piece will be written when new information from that conversation is provided.

For more information on Christopher’s Law, please visit christopherslaw.com.

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