Graham recalled heading outside to find the African American man now conscious but spitting out blood, sprawled out in the street in the tiny Michigan village called Wolverine. He heard that a White patron — a man with a “reputation for being racist” — had hit the victim after hurling a racial slur. He told the court he then watched as that patron emerged from the bar to punch the Black customer three more times, knocking the man to the ground over several minutes.
Edward James Tyson, 38, did not hit back, he said. He just kept asking a question: “Why are you calling me that?”
That’s when Graham said “things were getting out of hand,” according to a court summary of testimony. Whether anyone told the White customer to leave is disputed. But no one at the B.S. & Co bar called the police.
At first, a court said Tyson could not sue the bar for negligence that Saturday night in 2015. But this week the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled otherwise, clearing the way for Tyson to seek damages after he says he suffered a traumatic brain injury. The fact that Tyson was beaten just outside the front door does not relieve the bar staff of any duty to intervene, the appeals court said.
The ruling came days after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder in the death of George Floyd, a Black man. The Floyd case as well as high-profile assaults on Asian Americans have highlighted the role of bystanders. Three other ex-officers are charged after they did not stop Chauvin from kneeling more than nine minutes on Floyd’s neck, and a teenage bystander’s video of the killing was pivotal in this week’s conviction.
“What she did in that case is exactly what the defendants didn’t do in this case involving Ed Tyson,” said Tyson’s lawyer, George T. Sinas.
He hailed the appeals court decision as a forceful reminder that no one can turn a “blind eye” as the country struggles with racist attacks.
“It was so obvious that a horrible, despicable act of racial violence was unfolding right in front of them,” he said. “And it was obvious that unless somebody did something this was gonna end badly.”
The White customer, 68-year-old David Dawkins, is also named in the lawsuit and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, according to court records. The Washington Post could not reach Dawkins Friday, and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
The owner of the bar, Carol Unthank, declined to comment Friday, and The Post could not reach Graham.
Tyson was on his way to pick up a pizza order from the bar on Sept. 12, 2015, according to his lawsuit and court testimony. Dawkins testified that he was at B.S. & Co for “bike night” and went outside to listen to live music across the street sponsored by a motorcycle group known for advocating against bike helmet laws, court documents state.
As Tyson and his friend approached the bar, Tyson testified, he met a barrage of racial slurs.
Two people — one of whom was later hired by the bar, according to the appeals court — were targeting him with the n-word. Tyson said he “expressed his offense” and kept walking, court documents say. But then Dawkins stepped in front of him, he said.
Dawkins allegedly called him the n-word.
Tyson said he tried to back away. Dawkins testified that Tyson asked Dawkins if he’d called him a slur and then “postured for a fight,” court documents state.
But both men agreed on what happened next: Dawkins punched Tyson.
Tyson’s friend would testify that Dawkins “hauled off” and hit the victim hard enough that he fell, head bouncing off concrete. He went unconscious for at least a minute, the friend said. Tyson said he didn’t remember anything else from the night — and later underwent emergency room treatment and speech therapy and grappled with “significant physical and psychological limitations” as a result of the beating, according to his lawsuit.
Graham said someone went into the bar to tell Dawkins that Tyson was asking where he was, according to court documents, and a few minutes later, Dawkins came back for more.
People gave conflicting accounts of bar staff’s response after that point. The night-shift manager testified that she offered to call police when Tyson eventually entered the bar for his food, but didn’t follow through after he declined. Graham said he told Dawkins to get out and suggested the police were coming, though they had not been called, according to court documents. Dawkins got physical with him, too, Graham said, “chest bumping” him and “muscling me down.”
Dawkins told the court that after the second round of punching, he stayed half an hour more and was never told to leave.
A Cheboygan County Circuit Court judge said Tyson could not sue the bar. But Michigan appeals court judges wrote Thursday that they were wrong.
“A reasonable jury,” the wrote, “could conclude that because defendant’s bar patrons congregated out front on the sidewalk on bike nights,” meaning that “the area around the front entrance was effectively defendant’s premises.”
And a “risk of imminent harm” became clear when Dawkins reentered the bar after his first assault, the appeals court found. “Thus … this incident triggered a duty by the defendant to reasonably expedite the involvement of the police.”