Partiers who braved last Saturday night’s unexpected snow wearing board shorts and flowered shirts to Club Cabo’s advertised beach party were met with closed doors. Inside, on Thursday, Missoula police had spotted and abruptly halted a sexual assault in progress in a booth next to the dance floor. Friday morning, 23-year-old Wilbert Louis Fish was arraigned in Missoula Justice Court on a felony charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
Last fall, South-gate Mall’s Arriba Mexican Grill and Restaurant invested in an expensive sound system and a substantive light rig. From Thursday through Saturday nights, employees removed the tables in the cantina-like dining room to open up the dance floor for the room’s evening identity: Club Cabo.
The Club featured “Flashback Fridays,” when resident DJ Heart spun music from the 1980s and 1990s, and occasional themes—Salsa Night and Saturday’s cancelled “Spring Break Beach Party.”
But Thursdays were most popular, attracting a young crowd with an advertising blitz, in the Independent and other local media, focused on alcohol and cleavage. Last Thursday more than 600 people paid a cover charge of $3 to $5, depending on age, for admission.
I was at the club Thursday night from approximately 9 p.m. until shortly after 1 a.m.
By 9:30 in the evening the line extended about 100 yards from the door, all the way around the corner to the mall’s main entrance. At 10 p.m., doorman Ja’Ton Simpson, a 6-foot-5-inch football player for the Grizzlies, unhooked the cordon and began checking IDs, first visually for a match, then with a portable machine that verifies authenticity via magnetic stripe. “I catch about 10 fakes per night,” he said.
The club was brimming at 11. From a freestanding altar-like DJ booth, the Wild Boyz spun hip-hop, egging a predominantly female crowd on the dance floor toward frenzy. Soon, a couple of girls jumped up on the large speakers on either side of the booth, dancing salaciously. One peeled off her tank top, and the light from the overhead multi-effect Wizard hit her bouncing bra. Boys and men gawked from the booths surrounding the dance floor.
Shortly after 11 p.m., uniformed police officers entered the club and began navigating the dense crowd, prowling for underage drinkers. At Cabo, clubbers below the legal drinking age get their hands X’ed with a permanent marker, while legal drinkers wear wristbands.
According to court documents, officer Ryan Ludemann saw a man on top of a female on the bench seat in a booth next to the dance floor just before 2 a.m. At first it looked like the couple was “making out,” but as the officer got closer he noticed the woman’s left arm was hanging limp under the table. The man, who was later identified as Fish, had his right hand in the woman’s pubic area, “making physical motions that were consistent with sexual activity.” The officer hoisted Fish away from the woman and had a colleague escort him outside. Next, Ludemann spent a few seconds trying to shake the woman out of unconsciousness. She tried to sit up but couldn’t without assistance. Outside, she voluntarily submitted to a breathalyzer test and registered .20.
According to court documents, Fish claimed the two had “hooked up” a few times over the past year, but when asked for her name he incorrectly said it was Monica. The woman, 21, stated that she did not know Fish, nor had she given consent to sexual activity.
Fish admitted to Detective Richard Stepper that he had touched the woman’s clitoris and claimed the activity was consensual.
Though the incident took place inside the nightclub, owners Bob Powell and Rick Alonzo didn’t hear about it until the next morning when a reporter from a local news station called asking for a comment. Police apparently did not notify the club’s on-site staff of the assault Thursday night. “Why didn’t the police let management know?” Powell wants to know.
The long-time business partners and restaurateurs closed Club Cabo for good later that day. Arriba, the Cabo Lounge and the affiliated Baja Casino will remain open. “We did everything we could to have a safe environment,” Powell says, citing the installation of surveillance cameras, eight to 10 security people, and close work with the police to minimize problems.
“We have good cooperation with [Club Cabo] management,” said Missoula Police Lt. Rocky Harris Thursday night, several hours before the sexual assault. “They realize the…problems out here, and we’ve established a good working relationship. We come together on both sides.”
What had been up to 40 nightly citations at the club only a few months ago had shrunk recently to 15 or so, according to police officers on the scene. Thursday yielded 13 citations, ranging from MIPs (minor in possession) to trespass, failure to disperse—and the sexual assault.
The latter was a wake-up call for the owners. “Unfortunately we can’t keep out a certain element as much as we try,” Powell says. “The havoc [Fish] can cause is too much of a liability. If we can’t guarantee—100 percent—that something like this incident won’t happen within our four walls, [then] we’re not gonna be in this business,” Powell said.
“Six hundred people had a great time [last Thursday] and one guy ruined it,” Alonzo adds.