Washington University officials promise a top-to-bottom review of the rowdy November 9 concert at the campus' Gargoyle club that ended with police blasting an intoxicated, nude student in the rear end with a Taser gun. "Because of the magnitude of the event, because of the one individual's actions, we are looking at their operations and how it could've gone better," says student activities director Julie Thornton.
Thornton planned to meet with Wash. U.'s police chief, Don Strom, early this week. Thornton says she's concerned as to why the 22-year-old male — an engineering major at the university whom police arrested, but have not yet identified — was not kicked out of the venue earlier in the night. Strom, whose department also fielded a complaint from a drunken concertgoer alleging that one of the concert organizers slapped him, says his "antennae" on alcohol use are up. "Was there more to this event than there were at other events?" Strom said.
Despite the scrutiny, Thornton says she does not expect to see the Gargoyle or its student committee punished. "I don't think you can put it on the Gargoyle," she says.
The Gargoyle is a glorified cafeteria dining room on the lower level of the university's Mallinckrodt Student Center. Its student committee books and promotes shows by up-and-coming acts on the college music scene. The Gargoyle scored big when it booked mash-up artist Gregg Gillis, who performs as Girl Talk.
Gillis, who uses his laptop to merge different pieces of sampled music, is known for allowing the dance-partying audience to join him onstage, while he strips down to his boxers. Eleven, the campus music magazine, devoted its October cover story to "the wildest act to come to Wash. U. in years: Girl Talk!"
The sold-out show was free to Wash. U. students and open to the public, for those eighteen and older. Though no alcohol was served, students fueled up in advance, according to several accounts. Billy Brown, a St. Louis Community College-Meramec student who was first in line that evening, says that even before the doors opened, a student wearing a Gargoyle badge had his arms draped around two friends, who walked him outside and dragged a trash can closer to him. "It was right outside those big windows, and everybody could see it going on," Brown says. "Everyone was laughing about it in line."
Reached at this home in Pittsburgh last week, Gillis recalls people dancing onstage with him within seconds of the music starting. At one point it appeared that the table holding his computer was going to be pushed off the stage, so he moved to the floor. Security started shooing people off the stage. After a couple of sound outages, the show continued. "It was chaos in a good way," says Gillis. "I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary at all."
However, several people in Girl Talk's audience had run-ins with the Tasered student, Jono Sanders. He was ultimately arrested and could face misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and sexual misconduct. Witnesses recognized the young man's face, but none who spoke with Riverfront Times knew his name the night of the Girl Talk show. Sanders didn't reply to an e-mail.
Greg Sabo, a Webster University student who later witnessed the Taser incident and Sanders' arrest, says he was standing close to the stage before Girl Talk's set began. Sabo says he and several people around him became annoyed with a tall man who kept intruding on their personal space and then challenging people to fights when they asked him to step back. "There was actually a chant at one point, 'Go back! Go back!'" Sabo recalls. Gargoyle staff persuaded the problem student to move to the back of the room, but, adds Sabo, "The bouncers weren't really involved at that point. That's one of the things that bothered me."
Toward the end of the evening, Sanders kept trying to climb onto the stage, according to witnesses. Security guards hauled him out. Sabo, who had gone out to the lobby, says he watched two guards and a student trying to push Sanders out the door. He resisted by hanging onto the doorframe. Then he dropped his pants.
"Most people were totally in shock — even the bouncers and the staff guy," Sabo says. "The student staff worker threw up his hands and walked off. Right at that second, the police officer came down the stairs." Sabo says a crowd watched the entire arrest — and Tasering. "It was both funny and horrible at the same time."
When Sanders refused to dress himself the officer began to handcuff him. Chief Strom says the officer decided to use the Taser because Sanders pulled away after one handcuff was on. The dangling handcuff could have been used as a weapon, Strom says. The officer, adds Strom, first deployed the Taser gun from a distance. When Sanders still failed to comply, the officer applied the Taser directly to his butt and then to his thigh. University police took Sanders to a hospital to remove the Taser prongs from his skin, then on to the St. Louis County Jail.
Kyle Hamilton, a 20-year-old student at University of Missouri-St. Louis, watched the incident from outside the Mallinckrodt Student Center, where he was smoking with his friend from Wash. U. Hamilton snapped a few pictures as officers led Sanders away. Hamilton didn't learn of Sanders' identity until the following Sunday when Sanders contacted him through Facebook. He wrote that he was "the guy who got tased," and asked for copies of the pictures. Hamilton added Sanders to his Facebook account as a "friend" and shared the pictures. Sanders' Facebook profile says he hails from Austin, Texas, and attended Oberlin College in Ohio before coming to Wash. U.
After the Girl Talk show was cut short, people shouted, "Don't Tase me, bro," a reference to the University of Florida student who was hit with a Taser at a John Kerry forum in September. Although the stun gun has become the non-lethal weapon of choice, Hamilton says, "A lot of people there didn't think they were actually going to Tase him."
Thornton says she didn't know much about the student who earned Wash. U. a recent mention on MTV. "It's a little bit of a concern that this 22-year-old man didn't have his own friends looking out for him, saying, 'Dude, you're a mess. Get out of here,'" she says. "I don't think the broader community was looking out for each other that evening."