May 31, 2007
By Jason Auslander | The New Mexican
May 31, 2007
Prosecutor says man suffered earlier attack in topless bar's parking lot
A Los Alamos National Laboratory whistle-blower was attacked twice outside a Santa Fe topless bar nearly two years ago, not just once, a prosecutor said during the attackers' sentencings Wednesday.
The first time occurred as Tommy Hook was leaving Cheeks after spending three hours allegedly waiting for a fellow whistle-blower to show up, Joseph Campbell said. An unknown man hit him in the back of the head outside the bar, knocked him to the ground and said, ``You ought to keep your mouth shut,'' Campbell said.
The second attack occurred minutes later in the strip club parking lot when Hook backed his car into a different man and initiated an ill-fated confrontation with the man, Campbell said. Hook, who said he was lured to the bar by a mysterious, late-night phone call, sustained serious injuries that night, though police later said his whistle-blower status was not the reason he was attacked.
On Wednesday, the two men involved in the second attack -- Joseph Sandoval, 26, and 29-year-old Zeke Nevarez -- accepted plea deals in connection with the beating and were sentenced in state District Court.
Campbell's version of what happened the night of June 5, 2005, differed from previous reports about the beating, which mentioned only the one attack on Hook by Sandoval and Nevarez. Campbell also supplied several other unreported details about the events of that night, including the fact Hook started the physical altercation with the much-larger Sandoval.
The same week the beating took place, Hook was preparing to meet with a congressional investigator about allegations he'd made about fraud and waste at LANL. Hook and another lab auditor also had filed a lawsuit against the lab before the beating, alleging they had faced retaliation after speaking out about the alleged fraud and waste.
The incident in June 2005 began just after 10 p.m., when Hook received a phone call at his home in Los Alamos, Campbell said. Hook thought the call was from a fellow lab employee who wanted to help blow the whistle on the allegations Hook had brought to light, he said. The employee suggested Cheeks -- a topless bar on Cerrillos Road -- as a meeting place, Campbell said.
Hook, whose wife was visiting their grown sons in Albuquerque at the time, arrived at the bar shortly after 10:30 p.m., Campbell said. He spent about three hours at the strip club, talking to other patrons and buying drinks for some of them, Campbell said.
A lawyer for Cheeks said at the time that Hook drank six beers, sat with two attractive women at the bar, bought drinks for the women, bought dances for the two women and, around midnight, bought a dance from a waitress in the VIP room. Roger Purcino, the lawyer for Cheeks, also said Hook told Cheeks employees he'd won $500 at a casino earlier that night.
Campbell said he has e-mail records showing Hook was home until nearly 10 p.m. Purcino didn't return a phone call Wednesday seeking further comment.
As Hook left the bar and was walking to his car, a mystery man hit him in the back of the head, Campbell said. Campbell said he did not know if the man -- who warned Hook to keep his mouth shut -- used a weapon in the attack, but said Hook was knocked to the ground, where he lay in a dazed state for about two minutes. Hook only saw the man's legs and feet.
Hook was still dazed when he made it to his car and began to drive away, he said. However, before leaving the parking lot, Hook decided he should report the attack to police and was re-parking his Subaru to do so when he backed into Sandoval's leg, Campbell said. Sandoval, who had just arrived at the bar to pick up Nevarez and hadn't been inside, kicked the bumper of Hook's car in response, he said.
Hook -- who is about 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 150 pounds -- got out of his car and pushed Sandoval -- who is about 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 275 pounds -- in the shoulder area, Campbell said. Some witnesses said it looked as if Hook was going for Sandoval's throat, Campbell said. Hook's move, however, had no effect on the much-larger Sandoval, the lawyer said. Sandoval struck back, knocking Hook to the asphalt, ``and the beating ensued,'' Campbell said.
As Hook fell to the ground, Nevarez, who hadn't been involved in the situation up to that point, joined the fray and began punching and kicking Hook while he lay on the ground, Campbell said. Witnesses said Sandoval also beat Hook while he was the ground, Campbell said. Damian Horne, Sandoval's lawyer, said his client, who does not drink, do drugs or have a criminal record, did not participate in the beating after Hook fell to the ground.
State District Judge Michael Vigil asked who hit Hook from behind the first time. Campbell said no one knows who the first assailant was, but it wasn't Sandoval or Nevarez.
Hook said Wednesday in court that he has gone through two years of rehabilitation for injuries to his shoulder, neck, hand, wrist, foot and scalp. He also suffers from cognitive problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder, he said. ``I can no longer add simple numbers,'' Hook said. ``These guys almost killed me.''
Susan Hook, his wife, said the couple has been married 31 years, but during the past two years, ``he is not the same person I married.''
``They treated him like a piece of meat,'' she said. ``He would have been beaten to death if the security guard hadn't come out. No human being deserved that, no matter what reason he was there.''
Santa Fe police found a bruise on the back of Sandoval's leg that was the same height as the bumper on Tommy Hook's car and concluded Sandoval had been hit, Campbell said. FBI investigators found no evidence of the contact, the prosecutor said.
FBI spokesman Bill Elwell said Wednesday that he didn't know if agents found evidence of the car hitting Sandoval. He also said he hadn't heard of an attack preceding the beating from Sandoval and Nevarez.
FBI investigators found that Tommy Hook, who'd had ``a few drinks,'' became belligerent with Sandoval and was beaten. Also, investigators found the comment about keeping his mouth shut was made by Sandoval in response to Tommy Hook's belligerence, and Hook was at the bar of his own accord and never received a phone call prompting his presence, Elwell said.
``We found the altercation had absolutely nothing to do with his being a whistle-blower,'' Elwell said. ``He tried to tell us he was lured there, but that wasn't the case.''
The FBI is not investigating the report of the alleged first attack, he said.
Campbell said he doesn't have records proving a phone call prompted Tommy Hook's trip to the nightclub. But e-mail conversations Hook had that night indicate he was summoned to the bar, he said. In addition, Campbell said he believes some of the injuries Tommy Hook sustained that night support Hook's contention of a first attack to the back of his head.
``If he was hit in the back of the head as he claims, I would believe it was because of his whistle-blowing status,'' Campbell said. ``I believe he was assaulted twice.''
Sandoval entered an Alford plea to conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, was given a conditional discharge and sentenced to one year of probation. Nevarez entered an Alford plea to one count of aggravated battery and was sentenced to four years in prison. However, District Judge Michael Vigil suspended three of those years and sentenced Nevarez -- who apologized to Tommy and Susan Hook -- to a year of house arrest.
``What I did was wrong,'' Nevarez said. ``I just don't ever want to be in this courtroom again.''
In an Alford plea, a defendant doesn't admit guilt but acknowledges that sufficient evidence exists to convict. A conditional discharge means the felony charge will be wiped off Sandoval's record if he successfully completes his probationary period.
Vigil ordered both men to pay restitution to Tommy Hook for medical bills as part of their sentences.
Bob Rothstein, Tommy Hook's lawyer in the civil lawsuit against the lab, said Wednesday that a judge is considering motions for summary judgment filed by the lab, and the case is on hold until those decisions are made.
Contact Jason Auslander at 995-3877 or email@example.com.