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San Francisco Club Security Accused of Putting Black Woman in Chokehold

Written by Kevin V. NguyenPublished Nov. 03, 2022 • 2:00pm
A close-up shows the exterior of DNA Lounge, a popular 18+ nightclub in San Francisco, on Nov. 3, 2022. At a Halloween event on Oct. 30, a woman said that she was brutalized by the club's private security. | Kevin Nguyen/The Standard

A Halloween event at a San Francisco nightclub turned ugly when a Black woman appeared to have been placed in a chokehold by a security guard.

The woman, Lauren Hopkins, posted a video of the alleged chokehold to her personal Instagram account Wednesday, along with photos of bruising that she says were caused by club security staff.

The 25-year-old said in a public Instagram post that she was waiting in line outside of DNA Lounge in SoMa when she was approached by club security. 

According to her, she was rolling a marijuana spliff with a cigarette and discarded the cigarette butt when a security guard warned her that she could be removed for littering.

She asked the guard if it was any different to her discarding the end of a cigarette after smoking—which she says resulted in her getting physically dragged out of the line while her legs were bound by security.

Hopkins ended her post by saying that she does not want the business to “get away with brutalizing the community.” She did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

However, in a statement on its website, DNA said: “An overly-intoxicated woman was told she could not enter our premises.”

DNA added that she “violently struck a staff member” before she was restrained and police were called.

As of publication, DNA’s Yelp page has been frozen and is being monitored after a barrage of negative reviews appeared after Hopkins’s post went viral. 

“Nobody is comfortable watching a video of someone being restrained, especially when it involves a woman, Black person, or in this case both,” the DNA Lounge statement said. 

The Standard contacted DNA with follow-up questions about security tactics, but is yet to receive a response. 

SFPD confirmed that officers responded to a citizen’s arrest incident at approximately 1:41 a.m. on Oct. 30. They said they gave aid to a nightclub staff member who was injured “due to a physical altercation” with a woman and a man. 

Police say a staff member involved declined to press charges and that the detained individuals were then released at the scene.

Hopkins said in her social media post that the detained man was a bystander who only stepped in to help her after he noticed her being restrained. She says that as the confrontation escalated, a guard choked her harder until she began to black out. 

The exterior of DNA Lounge, a popular 18+ nightclub in San Francisco. | Kevin Nguyen/The Standard

‘A last resort’

A San Francisco-based security company boss who does not provide services to DNA Lounge explained wider issues around nightclub security in the city.

Riley O’Donnell, president of Rambo Security Services, estimates that 90% of bars and clubs in the city hire independent contractors for security as it is usually cheaper than hiring a third-party security firm. He said that, in turn, means that standards of practice will vary by business.

O’Donnell said he tries to avoid sending his staff to bars or club venues because of the high probability of risk. 

However, when they do handle security at after-hours venues, he said that the main objective is usually to check IDs, stop drug use and prevent persons who are too intoxicated from entering the venue. 

“When you mix alcohol with standing in long lines or crowds, that can lead to a lot of frustrating interactions,” O’Donnell said. “When someone is upset that things aren’t going the way they like, they tend to throw security under the bus first.”

O’Donnell said that Rambo’s procedure for citizen’s arrests is to call the police when they decide removal-by-force is necessary. 

“Making citizen’s arrests is such a big liability that we only do it as a last resort,” he said. “We really don’t want to be grabbing or holding anyone, because if it is not all on video, then people can accuse us of things we didn’t do.”

DNA Lounge opened in 1985 and is an 18+ club. It hosts live music performances, burlesque shows and private parties.

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