Before Horse Stunt, Mokai Staff Repeatedly Accused of Beating Up Customers

Before Horse Stunt, Mokai Staff Repeatedly Accused of Beating Up Customers
Justin Namon/
The doors were locked at Mokai Lounge this past weekend after the City of Miami Beach shut it down over a viral video showing a horse freaking out and bucking off its scantily clad rider inside the club. Animal activists have poured vitriol on the nightclub's social media accounts over the horse stunt, which the city said represented a threat to public safety.

But a number of lawsuits allege that even without a horse in the room, patrons were far from safe at Mokai. Since 2014, five patrons have sued the nightclub because its staff allegedly battered them and left them with broken noses, cuts from vodka bottles, and other serious injuries. Two of those cases remain open in Miami-Dade civil court.

"The guy who hit her is a heavyweight boxer," says C. David Durkee, an attorney representing Princess St. Paul, a woman who says a Mokai bouncer punched her so hard in the face that her nose shattered. "That tells you the type of hit he gave her."

St. Paul's claims echo those in several of the other lawsuits — namely, that Mokai's security staff overreacted to disputes in the club and caused major injuries. In St. Paul's case, she says she was in the club April 20, 2017, when a bouncer made an "ill-fated attempt at crowd control" and punched her in the face, leaving her with a broken nose.

"This is a young woman, and no matter what the nature of the argument was inside the club, there's no situation where punching her in the face with a closed fist was acceptable," Durkee says.

St. Paul sued Mokai in July; an attorney for the club has denied most of her claims, arguing in court filings that it wasn't Mokai staff who broke her nose. The club's attorney didn't respond to messages to comment for this story.

Her allegations are echoed in four other recent lawsuits. In another open case, filed in February 2015, Gabriele and Dirk Hempen say they were accosted by Mokai security guards in March 2012. Two bouncers "carelessly struck" Gabriele and knocked her to the ground, causing "serious personal injuries." (Mokai's attorneys have so far unsuccessfully sought to dismiss the case.)

Three other recent cases have since been closed:
  • Christopher Michelena said bouncers picked him up by his shirt and threw him to the sidewalk after he asked them to stop disrespecting his girlfriend. His case was dismissed with prejudice last July.
  • Danov Paul alleged Mokai's security staff "physically attacked" him in July 2014, leading to "serious injuries." His case was dismissed with prejudice last April.
  • Tirso San Juan claimed a bouncer attacked him when he demanded security restrain another patron who was drunk and threatening him. While the security staff held him against a wall, the other patron threw a vodka bottle at him that hit a wall and exploded. San Juan said that the bottle "severely cut his abdomen" and that a bouncer punched him several times. His case was dismissed with prejudice in July 2016.
Mokai has yet to comment about the horse video, which led Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber to quickly condemn the club Friday. "Animal cruelty is an abhorrent and vile act," he said. The club's marketing staff didn't return another message to comment on this story.

But the club will have a chance to appeal City Manager Jimmy Morales' decision to revoke its license. Mokai is facing an $11,500 fine for the horse stunt, but even if the club's owners pay the fine, they'll have to persuade a special master in an appeal hearing to return their license, city spokesperson Melissa Berthier says.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink