EL PASO, Texas — The owner of a west El Paso bar and restaurant contends police are wrong in their report of a 50-person brawl with shots fired that took place in his parking lot on Sunday night.
And Justin Kaufman says the man arrested by police – who was later ordered released by a magistrate due to a lack of probable cause – wasn’t involved in any fight.
That man was Shelby Hughes, an Army sergeant first class who had retired just days prior from Fort Bliss. Hughes said his arrest happened as he was leaving El Paso Drafthouse 2 on North Mesa Street after celebrating his retirement at the bar’s daylong brunch with friends.
Kaufman told ABC-7 in an interview on Tuesday that the police account of what happened was inaccurate and doesn’t match his surveillance video. Although from the location of the security camera, it’s difficult to determine if the video he showed ABC-7 captured the totality of events that evening. It doesn’t show much of the parking lot – and the time stamp may not have reflected the actual time of the incident.
Kaufman claims the so-called fight involved an argument between two women in front of his establishment, and others who followed the pair outside may have given the false impression of brawl. He says he thinks a passer-by probably noticed the large crowd and called police – and he maintains no one had a gun or fired shots.
The bar owner alleges that police detained the retired service member because he fit the description of a man that officers were apparently told had fired a weapon during the incident.
“The retiring sergeant refused to be frisked, telling the officers he had no weapon nor was he involved with the fight,” Kaufman told ABC-7, suggesting that the man’s refusal to be searched led to his arrest.
But Hughes said he did not refuse to be searched, rather, he just asked to not be “manhandled” by police – who he claims tossed him to the ground to search him. Cell phone video reviewed by ABC-7 that was taken by a bystander at the time of his arrest simply shows Hughes lying on the ground with officers around him; agitated people in the crowd can be heard shouting at police.
The video doesn’t show what unfolded before Hughes is seen on the ground, so it’s unknown what interactions initially occurred between him and the officers who responded – and whether he complied with or resisted authorities trying to take control of the scene. (You can watch that video in the player at the top of this article.)
El Paso police have previously said a 40-year-old Fort Bliss man – who was not named – was taken into custody because he was believed to have been armed with a gun and had fled the scene. Police said in a Monday statement – issued after a magistrate released Hughes – that the incident remained under investigation.
A police spokesman said Tuesday at least two other men were also briefly detained by officers at the scene that night under “reasonable suspicion”; they cooperated and were questioned and released. But the third man “displayed hostility and did not comply with lawful orders to stop.”
Police emphasized that numerous officers had responded to what callers described as a large fight with shots fired, so it had to be treated as a possible active shooter situation, similar to a report days prior at the Cielo Vista Mall that turned out to be false. Several men were initially detained and searched at the mall scene too as authorities tried to sort out what had actually happened, police noted.
Employees at a nearby business to El Paso Drafthouse 2 confirmed to ABC-7 that some patrons came in Sunday evening telling them they too had heard gunshots in the parking lot at the time of the incident.
“Officers are acting with information at hand in chaotic situations and now more frequently met with hostility,” the police spokesman explained. “In response to a police call, especially to hostile violent calls, comply with the officers’ orders so that the situations can be resolved without incident.”
It’s also worth noting that Kaufman, who owns a variety of local bars and gyms, is currently facing his own legal troubles with El Paso police. Kaufman has felony drug charges pending against him following an arrest last November.