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Could High and Tight Be Held Liable for Deep Ellum Assault?

High and Tight Barbershop on Friday afternoonEXPAND
High and Tight Barbershop on Friday afternoon
Beth Rankin
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Days after a woman was beaten in an early-morning altercation in Deep Ellum, her lawyer said he was considering suing not only the man accused of punching her repeatedly, but also the bar where he worked.

At a news conference this week, civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said High and Tight, a Deep Ellum barbershop and bar, could be culpable if he could show that the bar shouldn't have hired Austin Shuffield because of a history of racist social media posts. But exactly how likely is it that the bar will be held liable in court?

Not very, says Chad Ruback, a Dallas-based appeals attorney.

"I don't see this as being a close call whatsoever," Ruback said.

Video recorded before dawn March 21 appears to show Shuffield beating L’Daijohnique Lee as she blocked the entrance to a Deep Ellum parking lot after driving the wrong way down Elm Street. A handgun can be seen in Shuffield's hand before the beating.

Shuffield has since been fired and faces charges of unlawfully carrying a weapon, a Class-A misdemeanor, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony.

To show that the bar was liable for the assault, Merritt would need to establish causation, Ruback says — that is, he would need to show that the crime wouldn't have taken place if High and Tight hadn't hired Shuffield as a bartender.

The bar hasn't confirmed whether Shuffield was working on the night of the assault. If the incident had taken place in the bar while Shuffield was working there, the bar could face some liability, Ruback says. But the incident took place outside, hours after the bar closed. If Shuffield wasn't working that night, or even if he had worked that night but clocked out hours earlier, attorneys would face difficulty trying to establish that connection, Ruback says.

"How the heck is the plaintiff going to show that if the bar hadn't hired him, he wouldn't have been there in Deep Ellum that night?" Ruback said.

As for whether Shuffield himself could be found liable in civil court, Ruback says there's less doubt.

"Absolutely, positively," he said.

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