Patrons and bystanders at the Market Street Pub Thursday afternoon were shocked when police allowed a man who witnesses had just seen attempt to strangle a female bartender leave the scene.
The subject, Jason A.K. Burnside, 49, of Chehalis, had reportedly been cut off and had allegedly made multiple attempts to leave the pub without paying his tab, according to a Facebook post by Market Street Pub Owner Tara Bird.
The victim had repeatedly asked him to pay before leaving. Security footage posted to both Bird’s and the victim’s personal Facebook pages Thursday evening shows the man wrap both hands around the victim’s neck and push her out of the frame.
The Chehalis Police Department responded just after 3:40 p.m. and placed Burnside under arrest.
Then, a couple hours later, officers released Burnside into his wife’s custody.
“The man literally tried to kill someone and was let go a few hours later,” Bird posted on Facebook. “I'm so beyond furiously pissed about this!”
The victim posted the same security video to her Facebook page Friday morning, along with an update that she was “a bit bruised, but I’m OK!”
Between both Bird’s and the victim’s posts, the video of the attack had roughly 2,700 views as of Monday afternoon.
“The frustration it seems that people have is that the man was not taken to jail, but instead allowed to leave with his wife,” said Chehalis City Councilor Michael Bannan in an email to Deputy Chehalis Police Chief Randy Kaut sent around 10 a.m. on June 11. Bannan wrote he had “been getting blown up over the last 15 hours” since Bird first posted the video.
“Before COVID hit, we likely would have booked him into jail,” Kaut wrote in an email reply to Bannan, adding that even though the Chehalis Police did not have Burnside booked into the jail, “we would have tried to find some way to ensure he was no longer a risk” had Burnside remained in the area and his wife not taken responsibility for him, said Kaut.
As for not having Kaut booked into the Lewis County Jail, Kaut said the decision was based primarily on COVID-19’s impacts on both the jail and Providence Centralia Hospital, where Burnside would have had to get medical clearance before booking due to his “extreme level of intoxication,” Kaut wrote.
“Since Centralia Providence is also on medical restrictions due to COVID, our officer would have had to transport him to St. Peter’s Hospital and then have to wait hours before bringing him back,” Kaut wrote. “Because of our staffing levels, that means one officer would be in the city alone handling calls. We try to avoid that since it greatly increases risk to the remaining officer.”
Providence does not have any specific COVID-19 restrictions that would prevent an officer or ambulance from taking a patient to Providence Centralia Hospital — but when any one hospital in the region gets close to reaching full capacity, it activates a diversion status, and all calls in the region are rerouted through a central system at St. Peter’s Hospital and patients are redirected “round robin” style to hospitals throughout the region. The diversion program is intended to prevent any one hospital from reaching full capacity and to ensure that all patients receive necessary care, according to a Providence spokesperson.
Providence Centralia Hospital has been close to full capacity for the last couple weeks, activating the diversion program.
The most recent data from Lewis County shows eight new COVID-19 hospitalizations between May 30 and June 5. The county recorded a total 382 COVID-19 hospitalizations between March 15, 2020 and June 5, 2021.
And even if Chehalis Police had gotten medical clearance to book Burnside into the jail, Kaut said he was unsure whether or not the jail would have accepted the booking.
“Unfortunately with COVID restrictions in place, the jail is on restricted booking which means only felony, domestic violence, or DUI offenses are allowed,” wrote Kaut. “Even in those cases, unless it’s a serious offense, many are quickly released and provided a court date.”
The Lewis County Jail’s total system population has gone down significantly since the jail enacted booking restrictions in the early days of the pandemic. The jail reported an average total system population of roughly 140 inmates so far this month compared to nearly 230 reported at this time in 2019.
The Chehalis Police Department’s call log classified Thursday’s incident at Market Street Pub as a fourth-degree assault that was under investigation. In his Friday morning email to Bannan, Kaut said he believed the assault charges and possible robbery charges for refusing to pay his tab would likely be misdemeanors.
But after the Chehalis Police Department completed its investigation into the incident, the department referred a second-degree assault charge against Burnside to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.
The prosecutor’s office processed the referral Monday morning.
The charge is considered as a Class B felony in Washington state, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.
Burnside remains out of custody and has not yet been summoned for a preliminary appearance in Lewis County Superior Court.
In the meantime, Bird and the victim are both encouraging other local bartenders to be careful.
“I’m not sure what’s in the KoolAid right now but I’m freaking over the crazies,” the victim posted. “Stay safe friends, we are living in a wild time!”