The Third Man

A bar brawl; a stabbing; a missing suspect; a surprise ending

Near closing time on Dec. 20, 1994, the ricochet of pool balls and murmur of conversation at the 500 Club were interrupted by the telltale sounds of a bar fight.

Within minutes, one man lay unconscious inside and another lay on the sidewalk outside the Guerrero Street bar, nearly bleeding to death from two knife wounds in the chest. Three assailants fled into the night.

Days later, police received a tip from a “confidential informant” and arrested two of the assailants — Jonathan Hirst and Thomas Sansouci — at the Crazy Horse, a strip joint on Market Street where both worked as bouncers, according to police reports. But the third man proved unusually elusive.

Eight months later on Aug. 14, police finally caught up with the mystery suspect, cracking the case by pure luck. In the process, they learned that the two victims, one of whom barely escaped death, had concealed the identity of the suspect out of a mistrust of police and a half-baked plan to reap celebrity and profit from a movie, a book, or a lawsuit. And now the department is investigating the possibility that one of its officers also withheld information about the third suspect's involvement in the crime, according to a ranking police official.

Last week, the tangled case reached a dizzying acme: The two victims, Fidel Joshua and Kevin Murphy, grudgingly told police the name of the third assailant: Mike Reyes, a patrol special officer who walks a beat in Potrero Hill. (Patrol specials are private cops licensed by the Police Commission.) An arrest warrant was issued, charging Reyes with felony assault.

Upon learning of the warrant, Reyes added another piece to the puzzle: He revealed that he was the confidential informant, the police source says. According to the source, Reyes told inspectors that he called an officer he knew from Potrero Station immediately after the stabbing. The officer, Paul Lozada, is now under scrutiny by department investigators who are looking into whether he concealed Reyes' involvement in the crime. Lozada did not return phone calls to discuss the charges.

Perhaps it's fitting that this confused affair, with all its spiraling consequences, grew out of a night of drinking.

Inspector Gary Jiminez, who worked the stabbing case to its bizarre conclusion, says the night the stabbing occurred began with employees of the Crazy Horse gathering for a Christmas party at the Drunk Tank, a bar on Upper Market. Reyes, Hirst, and Sansouci soon made their way to the 500 Club where they were joined by two women.

The trouble began when Joshua approached the table of the Crazy Horse contingent around closing time, asking one of the women how many songs she had chosen on the jukebox. For reasons unclear, Hirst took offense. “What nigger?” Hirst blurted, according to Joshua.

Sansouci and Reyes quickly joined the fray, police reports state. Reyes knocked out Joshua's friend, Murphy, and Hirst slammed his fist into Joshua's face. As bartenders and patrons tried to break up the fight, Hirst jumped behind the bar and someone saw a flash, a glint of a knife. Joshua suggested that he and Hirst finish their business out on the street. Stepping out onto the sidewalk, Hirst said, “Here, nigger,” according to Jiminez, and the bouncer punched his blade into Joshua's chest, carving two wounds mere centimeters from his heart.

Almost immediately after Joshua was placed in the ambulance, police encountered walls of silence in investigating the case. One of the women at the table, Crista Berban, gave a phony address to Jiminez, a violation of the penal code that led to her arrest. Neither she nor the other woman with the assailants that night would identify their friends for police. When they were arrested, Hirst and Sansouci refused to roll over on Reyes.

But the victims were making great strides in tracking the case. Mere weeks after the attack, both Joshua and Murphy learned Reyes' identity. It turned out that Reyes had retreated to a friend's house the night of the stabbing and told the friend's roommate what had happened. Oddly enough, the roommate knew Joshua and Murphy from the 500 Club and after listening to Reyes' description of the two victims “she put two and two together,” Joshua says.

The next day, the roommate, Melanie Barnett, told Murphy about Reyes' involvement. When Joshua got out of the hospital in late January, she told him, too. And she dropped a bombshell: Reyes was a cop, she said.

Believing the police would never prosecute one of their own and with dollar signs in their eyes, Joshua and Murphy visited Oakland attorney John Burris, who specializes in police misconduct cases, and discussed mounting a civil rights lawsuit.

But Burris' office soon learned that Reyes was a patrol special. Since the city has no legal liability for the actions of patrol specials, Burris dropped the case.

By this time, Joshua was something of a local celebrity. A front-page story about the stabbing — and Joshua's role in capturing Hirst after he escaped from San Bruno Jail — appeared in the Aug. 6 Examiner. He was also appearing on local radio and television shows, including Mornings on 2 and Bay TV.

But Joshua and Murphy still wouldn't give up Reyes' name. Learning that Reyes was a patrol special may have muted their fears of a police cover-up but not their desire to increase their cash position.

They quickly thought up another possible lawsuit, this one aimed at Reyes' father, Sam Reyes, the president of the Patrol Special Officers Association. Joshua says he talked to attorneys about suing Mike Reyes, operating under the assumption that his father would cough up a cash settlement in order to avoid the negative publicity.

As the victims were hunting for the right attorney, the police concluded the case against Hirst and Sansouci: Hirst got six to eight years in a plea bargain and Sansouci pleaded to a misdemeanor battery charge and got probation. With the convictions, the search for the third man had all but ended.

But the rumors wouldn't die. Reyes' name was being bandied about among criminal justice insiders after Burris' investigator started making calls. Soon Jiminez caught wind of Reyes' name.

“This was so incredibly frustrating for me,” the veteran inspector says, discussing the victims' decision to withhold their assailant's name for eight months. “Here I break my hump for these guys [Joshua and Murphy] and when I confront them they say, 'Oh well, you know with Rodney King and with the cops fixing evidence in the O.J. trail.' Jeez.”

So why didn't Joshua tip off police? He stumbles when posed with the question, mixing his mistrust of the police with references to a movie or book deal. “I want to go national with this,” he says at first. “I want to write a book.”

The preparation of this article angers Joshua. He has a keen sense of owning the information. “If you do a story about Reyes, then I'll go to your competition and get it out before you can,” he says.

Which may explain, more than anything, why he kept the crucial piece of information from police. Maybe he didn't want to lose control over the story. Maybe he began to see his experience as a commodity, a confluence of real life and fiction, like the O.J. trial or a script for NYPD Blue.

“I don't know if you've ever been traumatized,” he says. “You don't think straight. Maybe it was from watching too much TV and reading too many suspense novels.”

Full disclosure: George Cothran roomed with Jonathan Hirst for several months in 1993.

Tags: , , ,

Related Stories