Sunday, December 17, 2017
Human Interest

Wedding vows turned into blows, and even Grandma was in a chokehold

On a cloudy day in 2010, a punchy breeze whipped up a bride's veil as she stood by a gazebo on a grassy peninsula surrounded by Tampa Bay. Markeith Brown slipped a ring onto Tasha Johnson's finger, and they kissed.

Bride and groom rode around a parking lot in a horse-drawn carriage driven by a man in a tux and top hat.

The $15,000 fairy tale-themed wedding continued inside a ballroom at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant, where the guests were treated to a sit-down meal, an open bar and chocolate-covered strawberries.

The families smiled and tried to be happy. But personal feelings swirled. One of the groom's relatives had impregnated a girlfriend of one of the bride's relatives. And some of the bride's relatives didn't think highly of the groom, whose release from prison on drug charges was so recent that the wedding had almost been canceled.

Celebrations tend to put complicated family dynamics on display. Love. Hate. Anger. Jealousy. All mix as old resentments percolate to the forefront. Bonds are strong. One spark, you can start a war.

So there stood the groom, Markeith, on the edge of the dance floor, removing a stack of $1 bills from his white tuxedo pocket. He lobbed them up and over the dance floor, all 100 of them.

He was trying to "make it rain." In the urban slang dictionary, this phrase means someone has entered a strip club and thrown a stack of cash at the strippers. In this case, the kids at the wedding tumbled across the dance floor, grabbing at the fluttering bills.

One of the bride's cousins got hold of a microphone.

"Take that to the strip club!" he barked.

"It's my wedding," the groom yelled back.

If you could have hit pause right then, if the groom's father hadn't looked sideways at the cousin with the microphone, if the cousin hadn't approached the groom's father and poked a finger at him, if the groom's brother hadn't gotten involved, if several other guests hadn't jumped up and taken combative stances, if a guy in a black derby hadn't started yelling and another guy wearing sunglasses hadn't started pushing, if everyone hadn't taken sides, maybe the anger of a few wouldn't have flowed like lava to a party of 100.

But now the crowd was like a surging wave, with the feuding guests crashing into the parking lot in all-out combat.

Two cops arrived and encountered screaming, shoving, punching, flailing and a man on the ground with a bloody lip who told them to get lost and said: "I am a man and I'll take it like a man."

Judyette Dudley, 52, was trying to put her grandkids in her car when a woman approached, armed with a 6-inch spiked silver heel. Dudley held a protective arm over the children and stared the woman down. The woman turned and walked away.

"People were hitting people just to be hitting," Dudley said. "That's how you do it in the projects."

Before long, 10 cars pulled up with more people who weren't even invited to the wedding. The violence moved to the parking lot of a motel 4 miles away, where the cops found two men punching and kicking the groom's father and a woman holding the groom's 74-year-old grandmother in a choke hold. Two people were arrested.

Word was the bride cried.

• • •

Eight months later, after the bride and groom returned from their honeymoon cruise, after their wedding brawl made national news and countless websites, Markeith went down to the Hillsborough County Courthouse.

He filed for divorce.

Earlier this year, Markeith's name turned up on a Target wedding registry. Markeith and a woman named Tameka were seeking a can opener, a bread box, a doormat.

On Feb. 19, they wed at the Florida Aquarium. Three police officers stood guard outside. Just in case.

Times researchers Carolyn Edds and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at [email protected].com or (727) 893-8640.

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