Witnesses testify about sounds of incident at Jack Didley's club in Kennewick

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 30, 2013 

Witnesses testified Tuesday about the sound Ben Ensign's head made when it hit the sidewalk in front of Jack Didley's, comparing the noise to a cinder block falling on concrete or a lighter being thrown to the ground and popping.

Joseph Webb said it was the loudest he'd heard in a long time after he saw security "drive (Ensign) to the ground" with what sounded like acceleration.

The 28-year-old testified in Matthew Thomas Hibbard's trial that he was having a cigarette on a friend's apartment balcony across the street when he noticed a scuffle in front of the Kennewick Avenue club.

When another security guard left his post at the door, "I proceeded to watch because I knew something was going to happen," he said.

Hibbard, 41, is charged in Benton County Superior Court with third-degree assault with aggravating circumstances.

The club's general manager, whose duties include overseeing security, was criminally negligent when he held Ensign in a chokehold and either dropped or thrust the intoxicated bar patron to the ground, said Prosecutor Andy Miller.

Defense lawyer John Jensen argued that his client had a duty to keep disorderly people out, and said Hibbard let go of a combative Ensign to protect himself when he believed he might be punched. He said Hibbard did not realize a bouncer had picked up Ensign's feet.

Ensign, 32, remains in a Spokane rehabilitation facility for treatment of the long-lasting effects of his brain injury.

After the July 4 incident, he spent weeks on life support at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland before his transfer.

Hibbard's trial started Monday, with the first testimony given Tuesday. Miller wrapped up the state's case in the afternoon.

It might go to the jury today.

Dr. Cheerag D. Upadhyaya with Kadlec explained to jurors how doctors discovered a fracture in Ensign's skull on the left side, in addition to internal brain damage.

He was responsible for treating the brain injury while Ensign was in the intensive care unit.

Upadhyaya said he induced a coma to reduce brain activity, increased the salt levels in Ensign's blood to dry out the moisture on his brain and alleviate the swelling, and surgically put a piece of the skull back so Ensign wouldn't be left with a soft spot and require a helmet.

Later Tuesday when Webb took the stand, he told the jury that he saw a man identified as Hibbard holding Ensign from behind while another bouncer grabbed his ankles. The men were holding Ensign in the air horizontally.

"I yelled off the balcony to drop him. What they were doing was illegal," Webb testified.

He said he saw Ensign -- who he never has met -- lift his arms as if he were dancing to the music before he was thrown to the ground.

Webb said his cellphone was dead, otherwise he would have called law enforcement and taken pictures of the incident. Instead, he ran across the street "to see if there was anything I could do or to see that there was no harm to Ben."

Jensen asked if Webb had been kicked out of Jack Didley's previously by Hibbard and told not to return.

Webb denied that, and told Jensen he "had used zero alcohol" and no other substances that night.

He told Kennewick police in a statement that after Hibbard threw Ensign, the manager said, "That's what you deserve, (expletive)," according to Jensen.

Stephanie Parker also took the stand to share what she saw after pulling up outside Jack Didley's just seconds before Ensign was on the ground.

Two security guards had a man up in the air and he wasn't moving, Parker said. She didn't hear them talking, but saw "they just kind of forcefully dropped him, like a shove, not just a let go."

Ensign's friend rushed to his aid and started yelling at a security guard, asking why he just did that when his friend obviously was drunk, Parker said.

The security guard had "kind of like a smile" on his face, and "pretty much said, 'What the f am I supposed to do, hold him all night?' " she added.

The man who had that response was the one holding Ensign by the neck, Parker said. But when asked if that man was in the courtroom, she hesitated while looking around before answering, "Uh, I don't think so."

For the defense, Jensen called two character witnesses to explain that Hibbard is known for being peaceful and nonviolent in the community.

Kennewick police Officer Michelle Pitts said she has known Hibbard since 1989 when they were in high school together.

Then after she turned 21, she was a cocktail waitress at a Richland bar where Hibbard worked as a bouncer. And in her current job, she often runs into Hibbard when responding to Jack Didley's calls.

Asked if she is aware of his general reputation in the community, Pitts said: "He is slow to anger. He's a very patient person." She added that Hibbard has a good reputation.

Pitts was the first officer on scene that night.

Miller questioned why she didn't write anything in her report about her longtime relationship with Hibbard, and he only learned about it during an interview with Jensen.

Pitts said her immediate bosses are aware that she has been a friend of with Hibbard for more than two decades. She added that when officers with the Criminal Apprehension Team arrived at the club, she removed herself from the investigation and handed it over to them.

Kennewick Detective Roman Trujillo was on the stand for less than two minutes to say Hibbard is known for his peacefulness and using good due diligence, instead of being negligent.

The men have known each other since middle school.

The trial continues today at the Benton County Justice Center.

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