Holmes family's civil suit seeks answers after criminal case is closed

Thursday, January 26, 2012 | 6:53 p.m. CST; updated 10:25 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 26, 2012

COLUMBIA In an untended corner of Fat Boy’s bar, formerly doing business as DC’s Bar & Grill, a narrow triangular dais raised just above a disused dance floor remains a reminder of the abbreviated career of DJ Ice.

Just after midnight on Aug. 21, 2011, Columbia Police responded to a 911 call and found Ice — better known to his mother as Marvin Holmes — lying unresponsive on his back just inside DC’s where he occasionally performed.

His eyes were open. He had been celebrating his 46th birthday. He died six days later.

On Jan. 17, Holmes’ mother, Juanita Holmes, and 6-year-old daughter, Ashanti, filed a wrongful death suit in Boone County Circuit Court against DC’s and Travis A. Brown. The suit alleges that Brown, a bouncer at DC’s the night Holmes suffered a fatal injury, “negligently attempted to escort (Holmes) out of the bar, causing (him) to fall.”

According to David Gregory, an attorney representing the family, the purpose of the suit now on file against Brown and DC’s is “to get answers” to the question of what really happened to Holmes.

Juanita Holmes declined to be interviewed for this story. Travis Brown and DC’s Bar and Grill owner, Craig Seymour, could not be reached for comment.

Holmes' fall proved fatal, according to police reports, because it resulted in a tear to the atlanto-occipital membrane at the base of his skull where it attached to his spine. That Holmes fell would be the only point of consensus among witnesses interviewed by Columbia Police.

At least five people saw an altercation between Holmes and Brown. Police said some witnesses said the altercation happened after Holmes asked that Brown allow his niece into the bar to celebrate his birthday without charging her a cover. Brown refused. Holmes fell. But no witnesses seem to be able to agree on why.

One witness claimed Holmes fell after Brown had punched him. Another that Brown had placed both hands around Holmes’ neck and wrenched him to the ground. Still, others said that the two shoved each other until Holmes was pushed hard back against a wall and both men fell — the 6-feet-2-inches tall, 260-pound Brown on top of the 5-feet-6-inches, 189-pound Holmes.  

According to statements, one witness said Holmes simply “passed out” and fell after an argument with Brown. Holmes' blood alcohol content was .155 when he was admitted to University Hospital.

Dori Burke, chief forensic investigator at the medical examiner’s office, said the manner of Holmes’ death was ruled a homicide by Chief Medical Examiner Carl C. Stacy.

Still, following its investigation, Columbia Police and Assistant Boone County Prosecutor Richard Hicks told the Holmes family no charges would be filed in the case, according to the report.

Without better testimony, there’s “no conclusion yet” for Holmes’ family, Gregory said. The hope is that the civil suit will produce a more consistent explanation from witnesses as to what occurred between Holmes and Brown.

But while Travis Brown himself will be subpoenaed, Gregory said he cannot be forced to testify. Brown’s testimony may be considered self-incrimination, from which he is protected by the Fifth Amendment. Still, Gregory hopes that Brown will cooperate.

“While we don't yet know all the facts, we believe this happened in the heat of the moment and that (Brown) did not intend to kill (Holmes),” Gregory said. 

The lawsuit asks for damages of not less than $25,000 to be paid to the plaintiffs.

The Columbia police file on Holmes’ death reads, “This case is closed exceptionally." According to the police, "exceptionally" denotes there is no more work to be done on the case, no arrests made, no charges filed.

The Holmes family hopes otherwise.

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