Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Battery charge dropped against St. Pete bar manager who tossed out drunk patron

ST. PETERSBURG — Prosecutors have abandoned a criminal case against a local bartender who was arrested this summer after an intoxicated patron fell and cracked his head as the manager was tossing him out.

But Blake Ambrester's bosses at Suite Six Bar & Lounge may still be on the hook for the June 30 incident at the downtown club — a civil lawsuit remains pending.

Officers were called to the club, at 265 Central Ave., just before last call. They found 39-year-old Jeremy Fisher, of Miami, face down and unconscious on the sidewalk.

Ambrester, 24, told police he tossed Fisher out of the bar after a female employee complained about being uncomfortable and feeling threatened. Ambrester said Fisher refused to leave when asked and became "physically resistant," police said.

The bar manager hauled him outside. As he did, police said, Fisher passed out and fell face first when Ambrester released him. Ambrester then flagged down an officer for help.

Fisher had severe head and neck injuries that required surgery. Ambrester was arrested a couple days later and charged with aggravated battery.

"He was in a coma for approximately a week," said Miami lawyer Darren Rousso, who is representing Fisher and his wife in the civil suit, filed in early July.

In fact, police said, it was the severity of Fisher's injuries that prompted them to charge Ambrester.

However, authorities at the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office decided this month that wasn't enough.

"Basically we talked to both sides and made the determination it wasn't prosecutable," said assistant state attorney Richard Ripplinger. "Apparently the way (Fisher) fell was more his fault than the accused."

St. Petersburg lawyer Rohom Khonsari, who represented Ambrester in the criminal case and is a consulting attorney in the civil suit, said he is pleased prosecutors "looked at the whole story and didn't overreact to the injuries alone."

Rousso said he doesn't think prosecutors' conclusion will hurt the civil lawsuit, which asks for damages of more than $15,000.

The lawsuit claims that the club and its owners were negligent and did not maintain a safe establishment. It also says the club allowed "dangerous and/or violent agents" — meaning Ambrester —to work there and should have protected Fisher from foreseeable harm because of that.

Records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show Ambrester pleaded no contest to felony battery charges in a 2008 case from Tallahassee. He served jail time for the same offense in another case.

At least one of the cases, officials said, involved Ambrester hitting someone at a bar.

"It's a viable claim," Rousso said. "We believe that the evidence is going to show that Mr. Ambrester engaged in a practice which rose to the level of negligence."

Khonsari disagreed. He said he was surprised by how quickly the lawsuit was filed.

"Mr. Ambrester did absolutely nothing wrong given the circumstances," Khonsari said. "Ambrester did his job that night … and nothing about his prior incidents would have changed how he acted."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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