On Feb. 1, a brawl bloodied patrons at Charlie B’s. Ever since the fists flew—and two pool balls sailed through the smoke, past a Jay Rummel mural, past the antique lamps and larger-than-life-sized photographs of old-timers—rumors also have been flying through Missoula’s bars. A second incident on Feb. 25 in the hallway between The Ritz and The Golden Rose Casino spurred on the rumor mill: Four thugs, maybe five, are hell-bent on razing the town before May; the guys train police, who are looking the other way; the feisty four are a martial arts crew using the town’s sedate hippies as practice turf. An ex-Marine and black-belt instructor involved in both incidents has decided to clear the air. His name is Sean Berberick.
Berberick, 29, stands over 6 feet tall, black Utah Jazz ballcap perched far back on the crown of his head. He leans against the tall Taco Del Sol counter, arms crossed, green bills in fist. He orders a taco the size of a Cadillac Seville. He takes a barstool, and sits down to eat and talk.
“In hindsight,” says Berberick, who is out on bail, “it was really, really dumb.” He’s talking about throwing the pool balls. But Berberick says “in hindsight” about other acts, too. He says it four times in one and a half hours. He is willing to talk about almost anything—the fight at Charlie B’s, the fight near The Ritz and The Golden Rose Casino, teaching at the Sakura Warrior Arts martial arts studio. The reason he’s talking, he admits, is because Sakura’s sensei—Jim Harrison, an internationally renowned martial arts champion and member of the Karate Hall of Fame—drilled him.
“He’s mad because we brought disrepute to his school,” says Berberick of the confrontation. Harrison demoted Berberick, removing one of Berberick’s two blackbelts. Harrison gave him advice, says Berberick: “‘Stand up like a man and take your punishment.’” And he gave Berberick an ultimatum: “‘No more trouble.’”
There had been plenty of trouble already.
On March 5, Berberick was charged with felony assault for his part in the brawl—his only felony rap in Missoula County. The shenanigans on the first of February were the most violent bar fights that some, including bouncer Ned Derosier, have witnessed at Charlie B’s. Charlie B’s folks sometimes toss back a few too many and scuffle—“over quarters, a girlfriend, [a] spilled drink,” says three-punch victim Derosier. Charlie B’s folks don’t fling pool balls across the room. Or break teeth or bust open lips or ears.
Twice in February, Berberick and Cody Bras—“one of my friends, one of my students, actually,” Berberick says—hit downtown bars after working out. Prior to February, Berberick says he hadn’t been at a downtown bar in a year. On both visits, fights ensued, but Berberick maintains that the fights were not premeditated. At Charlie B’s, Berberick describes the precipitating incident as “innocuous”—“A few punches were thrown, a couple people got thrown on the ground.” The fight escalated when Berberick, Bras and another Berberick student exited the bar, and in the alley, says Berberick, they were pelted by beer bottles. One hit Bras in the lower back. “Cody got really mad at that point,” says Berberick. “He came screaming back into the back door. I followed him in. Cody went pretty ballistic. He ran in there and started hitting people.” As for Berberick’s role, “I actually wasn’t involved until I threw pool balls,” he says. He says he’s glad no one was seriously injured, but a police report documents a patron who says he was hit in the mouth and ear by two pool balls.
Berberick also describes an event that took place near The Golden Rose Casino three weeks later, where he again played mop-up for Bras. “I’m not sure who started the whole thing,” says Berberick, “but there’s a possibility that it may have been Cody. I’m not going to lie to you about that. That’s just something that may have happened.”
Bras ran away from this incident while police detained Berberick. And Bras isn’t talking. He was fined for two counts of misdemeanor assault and criminal trespass for his involvement on the 25th. Berberick was charged with misdemeanor assault for his involvement on the 25th as well.
At Charlie B’s, patrons wonder whether the trained fighters had contrived a plan to raise Cain in town before May, when Berberick plans to move out of Missoula.
Berberick has a long history in martial arts—“Been doing it for half my life”—and he has trained police and correctional officers in Spokane, Wash., and two or three correctional officers in Missoula. In fact, the SWAT team has contracted with Sakura in the past—about three years ago, say Harrison and the police.
Upon hearing that one of his students and instructors was charged, Harrison, who has trained world champions, quietly says, “This doesn’t sit well with me.”
After the session with Harrison, Berberick seems like more of a contrite instructor than a reprobate thug. Downtown may have already seen the last of the rabble rousing. Still, Berberick’s actions have consequences. Downtown has been quieter this year, says Charlie B’s bartender Ben Schmidt, as he shows the video of the Feb. 1 bedlam. The worst part about the fight is that new customers were starting to show up at the bar. Now, Schmidt is afraid they’ll stay away.
Until Berberick leaves town in May, he says he plans to lie low. As to rumors that he and his pals had planned to raise hell downtown before his departure, Berberick grins. He wouldn’t call their plans hell-raising, he says. But he supplies the closest thing to an admission that he and the crew had something up their sleeves: “Our plans definitely changed after all this trouble.”
Berberick did not immediately respond to a voicemail asking what he and a student-friend were doing at Charlie’s, according to owner Charlie Baumgartner, around 1:30 this past Saturday morning.