Confrontation between downtown Los Angeles bar owner and homeless man prompts debate

The camerawork is unsteady and it’s impossible to tell what prompted the fight.

But the video posted to YouTube clearly shows Christian Frizzell, the owner of the Redwood Bar & Grill in downtown Los Angeles, wrestling with and yelling at another man — identified as Frank, a homeless panhandler who hangs around the area.

The video shows the two men in the crosswalk outside the bar at night. Frank is on his back with Frizzell standing over him. Frizzell then shouts expletives: “Get your … and get the … out of here!” He kicks what appears to be Frank’s shoe, left in the middle of the street.

What took place Aug. 22 has sparked debates about Frizzell’s character, attitudes toward the homeless and the reckless nature of social media.

A pirate-themed establishment that hosts bands, karaoke nights and, more recently, a canine “yappy hour,” the Redwood has, for decades, been the go-to hangout of Los Angeles Times journalists.

When an artist and poet who goes by the name Dylan Doren was skateboarding near the bar last week, he said, he happened upon Frizzell punching Frank in the head.

“That’s when I got my phone out and immediately started filming,” Doren, 31, said. “I just thought maybe if he saw that someone was filming he would be ashamed or it would be a reality check of what he was doing.”

Doren said responding police, who made no arrests, did not believe the video would be relevant as evidence against Frizzell.

(Warning: Video contains graphic language.)

Doren said Frank is a non-threatening “downtown staple” whom he has known for 10 years.

“He says ‘Hello, how are you?’ and asks for a dollar and that’s about it,” Doren said.

He said after the incident, he was taunted by Frizzell, who asked him his race.

According to Doren, Frizzell said, “I know what race I am. I’m an American.”

But Si McGrady, a bartender at the Redwood who witnessed the altercation, said that Frizzell never made such a statement and that the video fails to offer a full picture of what happened. He also said that although people have a soft spot for Frank, the transient has a history of bothering customers.

“From what I know of Christian and the bar and Frank, this is getting blown way, way out of proportion,” he said.

McGrady, 41, said he and Frizzell had attended a show at another venue and were returning to the Redwood about midnight. They saw Frank harassing two women outside the bar and Frizzell asked him to leave.

“At one point Frank grabbed Christian’s shirt,” McGrady said.

“Basically, once contact was made, they both kind of got tangled up. I feel like Christian was kind of looking at it like a father protecting his children and he just got super wrapped up and it went too far.”

The bar usually has a security guard, but did not have one on hand at the time because it was a slower night, he said.

The video was uploaded to Facebook two days later by nearby event venue the Smell.

“This chilling, ugly incident apparently took place the night before last, one day after Frank’s birthday,” the post said.

Frank was described as “the gentleman who sweeps up our alley and collects our bottles and cans each night.”

Commenters shared their outrage, but there was also plenty of support for Frizzell from those who said they had experienced scary run-ins with Frank.

A woman said Frank overheard her giving out her address to a friend outside the Redwood one night. He appeared at her home when she was alone: “He was pounding on my door and looking in my windows, yelling my name.”

One man wrote, “Frank also tends to get aggressive when he is in a bad mood and no one will give him money.”

Another poster echoed a common sentiment that the footage was incomplete.

“There is no context to this video, it conveniently cuts in at the man hitting the ground and Christian yelling,” she wrote. “How dumb do you have to be to see this and feel like you’ve gotten the full story?”

Frizzell, 42, who has owned the bar since 2006, declined to speak about the incident, but said in a statement that he was “embarrassed and saddened” by the video.

“I never assaulted any one or said any of those things. It's never fun to have to forcefully remove someone from your business.”

Frizzell said that Frank hit him, spit on him and ripped his shirt that night.

“All I did was try to escort him away,” he said. “The police responded to the scene and when they saw the physical evidence of the struggle asked if I wanted the suspect arrested. I declined.”

According to Frizzell, Frank has a long history of harassing his customers and employees.

“I am not a bigot or a racist,” he said. “I'm a small-business owner who is a father of four and the allegations and statements in the video are false accusations.”

corina.knoll@latimes.com

@corinaknoll

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