A “Culture Of Violence” At Waikiki Nightspot

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BY JIM DOOLEY – A Hawaii federal magistrate overrode the recommendation of court staff and denied bail for accused Waikiki extortionist Curtis Swanson.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi agreed with the prosecutor, Asst. U.S. Attorney Tom Brady, who argued that Swanson, 44, is a danger to the community and should be held behind bars while the charges against him are pending.


The Federal Pretrial Services Office recommended that Swanson be released to a halfway house while awaiting trial.

Swanson is one of three men accused of extortion and violence at the Shack Waikiki, a busy bar-restaurant on Kuhio Avenue that has gained notoriety in recent years for fights and beatings.

Swanson’s court-appointed attorney, Lynn Panagakos, told Puglisi that her client has serious medical problems and is in danger of losing medical insurance coverage for himself, his wife and two children.

“He’s got a pacemaker. He can’t get up and run,” Panagakos said.

Swanson has a lengthy criminal record but committed no offenses since 1993, Panagakos said.

Brady argued that Swanson’s rap sheet, combined with his alleged activities in the extortion case, warrant his pre-trial incarceration.

Brady offered to play videotapes of two incidents inside the Shack Waikiki in which a Shack manager, Brendan Birchfiel, was beaten by Swanson’s co-defendants in the case, Tory Winward, 44, and Jesse Yoshino, 30.

Swanson was present at both beatings, did nothing to stop them and later told law enforcement agents that he favors the use of the violence, Brady said.

“He has a different view of what is acceptable behavior,” Brady said of Swanson.

Swanson told FBI agents after he was arrested that it “is perfectly okay to fight, to get into fights to resolve differences,” Brady said.

Swanson also said, “If somebody owes you money, he deserves what he gets,” according to Brady.

Puglisi did not allow the videotapes to be played, but ruled that Swanson is “a danger to the community.”

Detention hearings for Winward and Yoshino will be held Thursday and Friday.

Shack Waikiki

State court lawsuits filed against the Shack Waikiki in recent years depict it as the site of repeated acts of violence against patrons and employees.

In one case now pending trial, Shack manager Birchfiel, depicted as a victim in the federal case, is accused of brutally kicking a bar patron who was held on the ground by several bouncers.

Birchfiel denied those allegations, saying the customer was intoxicated and escorted peacefully off the premises.

Another case pending trial was filed by 7-time world champion outrigger canoe racer Karel Tresnak Jr., who alleges he was assaulted without provocation by bar bouncers.

When Tresnak was standing at the bar with friends, he was “grabbed from behind” by a bouncer wearing a black t-shirt and was choked into unconsciousness, according to his suit.

Tresnak was “forcefully flung face-first” onto the concrete sidewalk outside, suffering major facial fractures and dental damage, the suit alleged.

The premises “are extremely violent and dangerous to patrons,” the suit alleged.

The Shack and its owners have denied the allegations in the civil suits.

A part-owner of the bar who was served with the official copy of the Tresnak suit, Andy Lindberg, has since given up his business shares after beatings and intimidation from Winward and the other defendants, according to federal court papers.

Another pending suit was filed by Shack patron Joshua Rust, who claims his jaw was fractured and his teeth were chipped or broken in November 2008 when bouncers took him to an alley outside the Shack and battered him.

“Four or five bouncers in black shirts” called Rust an “effing haole” while they beat him unconscious, the suit alleges.

Rust was a sales representative for The Gap clothing chain at the time of the incident. He now lives in Seattle.

His lawyer, Michael Cruise, has listed at least five other witnesses who would testify that they were beaten and battered by Shack employees in 2008 and 2009.

One is former Shack bouncer Kauiokalani Kauhi, who is suing the bar for injuries allegedly received after he became unconscious after drinking a shot of liquor served by Winward in October 2008.

Winward and possibly others then allegedly assaulted and battered Kauhi, causing multiple facial fractures and other injuries, according to the suit.

Winward denied the allegations, saying that on the night of the alleged beating, Kauhi became intoxicated at work by buying drinks at a next-door nightclub, Zanzibar. Winward told Kauhi he was terminated from his job and Kauhi left the bar without incident, according to defense filings in the suit.

If called as a witness in the Rust suit, Kauhi will testify about the “culture of violence” that existed at the Shack Waikiki when he worked there, court papers said.

Documents filed in the civil suits reveal that many of the bouncers and security personnel at the Shack Waikiki have serious felony criminal records.

Winward has an extensive record of convictions but, like Swanson, his crimes were committed nearly 20 years ago.

Yoshino, 30, has no criminal record, although he was tried and acquitted last year of a third-degree assault charge.

Winward, 44, was charged with third-degree assault in 2009 but prosecutors later dismissed the case.