Rock in a Hard Place

While Lakewood father David Cunniff struggled to recuperate from a devastating attack that may leave him paralyzed, skinhead Jesse Chaddock holed up in a Long Beach apartment complex and hid from police. Last Thursday's Dallas Morning News featured a blink-and-miss-it item on Chaddock's arrest in California, including the information that Chaddock was being held in a Los Angeles County jail. It is, perhaps, the first piece of good news since the incident occurred after an Old 97's show at the Gypsy Tea Room on July 26. Calls to Dallas police and Cunniff's family were not returned at press time, so, sadly, that's all I know. Not much.

So instead, let's talk about the rumors. There have been a hailstorm of them--from stories that one of Cunniff's daughters valiantly interceded in the attack (probably true) to rumors that the PR disaster may topple the powerful Entertainment Collaborative (probably false). Last week, the Ticket's Hardline devoted hours of drive time to the topic, including a call with Old 97's guitarist Ken Bethea, who fought back tears talking about the whole thing. Bethea has visited with Cunniff and his family, and the band is determined to play a benefit concert soon. That's a good thing. It's something concrete. What's trickier, however, is what's left for the public to do. What coursed through the Hardline discussions was how furious, how frightened, how sick to their stomach people are about this. My inbox slumps with the evidence: letters of grief from Cunniff's many friends, letters from parents who cannot conceive of two daughters watching their father stomped bloody. I can't tell you how many people have told me they will no longer go to Deep Ellum. Before, it was just a hassle: teens cruising the streets, crackheads begging for change, shitty parking. Now it's a genuine health risk. As if Deep Ellum didn't have enough problems, the skinheads are back.

So, is this the death rattle for Deep Ellum? A place that has already been saddled with crime and the offensive thump of crappy dance clubs? It was starting to look that way when a rumor floated out last week that the EC (which handles the Gypsy Tea Room, Trees, Green Room and Jeroboam) was dissolving in order to best protect its assets in case of a lawsuit. The folding of a mainstay like the EC would portend doom for an area crammed with young and flip-flopping businesses. Except, apparently, the story isn't true.

"The rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated," Whitley Meyers, the Entertainment Collaborative's vice president of food and beverage, writes by e-mail. "While we are moving/closing our EC corporate office located at 2546 Elm Street, Dallas, Texas, at the end of the month, we are still actively managing and operating each of these companies including The EC, hopefully, for another 15 years at a minimum. In other words, none of our companies is dissolving, liquidating, or going out of business at this time." (Meyers did suggest some staff changes might be in the works but did not elaborate.)

But what of that other implied rumor: Will the Gypsy Tea Room be sued? No official word, although I'd be surprised if they weren't. Not because they're liable (I have no idea), but because in a time when a coffee spill can result in a million-dollar settlement, it's hard to imagine such an imbroglio staying out of the courtroom. For one, Chaddock was on the guest list that evening. "He was one of the 83 people on the guest list that night as he was a 'friend' of one of our employees," writes Meyers, who (it should be noted) is also a lawyer. "It would be impossible to screen everyone on every guest list or buying a ticket and entering the venues for every show." True, but Chaddock was a thug notorious in the Deep Ellum area, and, in an interview last week, both talent buyer Scott Beggs and EC vice president of operations Eric Schlather said Chaddock had done flooring work for the Tea Room.

"Several of our employees remember him having worked as a day laborer for one of the contractors who did some floor work at Gypsy," Meyers writes. "So I am not denying that at some time he did do some 'work' at the club, I just could not produce any employment records for the DA when requested (and we researched it back quite a ways)." Meyers went on to characterize the July 26 incident as "an unpreventable tragedy that occurred by the unforeseeable dimwitted violent act of a customer for which we all will be forever affected."

None so much as David Cunniff.

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Sarah Hepola