Club manager pleads innocent to injuring customer

The general manager of a downtown Kennewick club pleaded innocent Thursday to allegations he critically hurt a customer on July 4.

Matthew Thomas Hibbard, 41, is scheduled for trial Oct. 15 in Benton County Superior Court.

However, Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor warned the court he expects that to be moved because Hibbard may ask for a delay.

Hibbard is charged with third-degree assault with aggravating circumstances.

He allegedly acted with criminal negligence and caused excessive injuries to Ben Ensign when he dropped the Jack Didley's patron onto a sidewalk.

Ensign, 31, suffered multiple skull fractures, and he has been in the intensive care unit at Richland's Kadlec Regional Medical Center.

In his role as a manager of the bar at 109 W. Kennewick Ave., Hibbard reportedly acts as a bouncer when needed.

Ensign had gone to the club with some co-workers after the fireworks show and caused a disturbance inside. He was drunk and was asked to leave.

Ensign eventually left the bar but returned a few minutes later and tried to get inside again, according to court documents. That's when Hibbard and another man working security grabbed Ensign and carried him out.

Hibbard grabbed Ensign around his neck and head, while the other man had his legs, and they dropped Ensign onto a concrete sidewalk, documents said.

Detectives with Kennewick police's Criminal Apprehension Team tried to determine whether Ensign was thrown to the ground, or slipped and was dropped by the bouncers. They reviewed video from the bar as part of the investigation, then sent all the information on to prosecutors to decide if charges were warranted.

Hibbard was charged July 30 and sent a summons to appear.

Hibbard was in court with his attorney, John Jensen of Kennewick. Judge Craig Matheson said because Hibbard appeared as ordered, he would allow him to remain out of custody on his personal recognizance while the case is pending.

After the incident, Ensign's family created a Facebook page called "Justice For Ben" and a blog to share his story and raise awareness about the "injustice at Jack Didley's."

The family wrote Monday that Ensign's condition has improved with "the most recent victory" being the removal of the ventilator that had helped keep him alive for a month.

He recently made "subtle movements of his right leg and hand," but the family blog acknowledges he continues to struggle and has "a long and challenging journey" ahead.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com