Man who tackled Dave Chappelle at Hollywood Bowl files lawsuit against venue

The man who tackled comedian Dave Chappelle onstage two years ago has sued the Hollywood Bowl and its security team, alleging negligent security and battery.

Isaiah Lee, who pleaded no contest to charges relating to the 2022 incident and was sentenced to jail because of it, alleged in a civil lawsuit that security guards employed at the venue for the “Dave Chappelle and Friends” event pulled Lee off of Chappelle and began beating him ruthlessly, spitting on him and dislocating his arm intentionally.

In a complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Friday — exactly two years after the incident — the 25-year-old, who identifies as bisexual and has experienced homelessness, said he tackled Chappelle after “The Dreamer” star “unleashed a barrage of homophobic and transphobic jokes” and joked about homelessness during the inaugural Netflix Is a Joke comedy festival. The complaint, obtained Monday by The Times, said Lee “became upset by the discriminatory nature of the comedian’s jokes and rushed the stage in protest as the show ended.”

“Instead of intervening to protect Lee, [the defendants] allowed members of the comedian’s entourage, encouraged by the comedian, to beat Lee,” the lawsuit said. The complaint also said that a knife fell out of Lee’s pocket well after the altercation was underway and that its presence “did not justify the force” used against him.

Jonathan D. Evans, Lee’s attorney, argued that the Hollywood Bowl and the unidentified “Doe” security companies were aware of Chappelle’s history of making offensive jokes that target the LGBTQ+ community, as well as his “propensity for making discriminatory remarks,” but “took no measures to prevent or mitigate the potential harm caused by such offensive material.” The firebrand comic, who is not listed as a defendant in Lee’s lawsuit, made headlines for months ahead of the incident because of jokes he made in his 2021 Netflix special “The Closer,” which resulted in an employee walkout for the streaming giant and broad criticism of Chappelle’s work.

“We cannot comment on ongoing legal matters,” a spokesperson for the Hollywood Bowl said Monday in a statement to The Times. “However, the safety and security of our audience and artists are of the utmost importance to the Hollywood Bowl. Security procedures are updated regularly to provide the safest possible environment for those who attend and perform at the Bowl.”

A spokesperson for Chappelle did not immediately respond Monday to The Times’ request for comment.

Any company the Bowl might contract with for security could not be contacted for comment due to lack of identification.

Lee’s attack occurred only months after Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on live television at the 94th Academy Awards, and violence reaching onstage was one of many issues concerning live performers at the time.

According to previous reporting, Lee emerged from the Bowl audience on May 3, 2022, and appeared to lower his head and charge Chappelle, knocking the Emmy-winning actor backward. Lee then fled to the back of the stage, where he was apprehended by security and sustained minor injuries. Chappelle, who was not hurt, later made quips about Lee and the incident and how the events played out.

Lee pleaded no contest to one charge of misdemeanor battery and one charge of entering a restricted area during a live event and was sentenced in December 2022 to nearly nine months in county jail. He completed his sentence and is currently in a transitional living facility, his attorney confirmed Monday to The Times.

In the lawsuit, Evans argued that the security company employed by the Bowl “had a duty to exercise due care” in the performance of its security services and failed to reasonably perform them, resulting in the injuries suffered by Lee.

Instead of detaining or arresting Lee using a reasonable amount of force or intervening to protect him from the beating, the security company “allowed members of the comedian’s entourage, encouraged by the comedian, to beat Lee senselessly,” the complaint said. Employees of the security company “joined in the beating” and “took no action to prevent it the assault,” the document said.

“As a direct and proximate result of the above-mentioned conduct of and omissions by Defendants … [Lee] was placed in great fear for his physical well being, and has suffered and continues to suffer extreme mental and physical pain, suffering, anguish, fright, nervousness, anxiety, grief, shock, humiliation, indignity, embarrassment, and apprehension, all to his damage in a sum to be determined at trial,” the complaint said.

The filing also said that Lee “was placed in great fear for his physical well being, suffered and continues to suffer extreme mental and physical pain, anxiety, humiliation and apprehension, among other issues. He has since experienced a significant loss of enjoyment of life and his injuries required immediate surgery, it said, and he cannot fully use his shoulder or engage in certain physical activities that he regularly did before the incident.

Lee is seeking a judgment against the defendants in a jury trial, as well an unspecified amount in damages, coverage of his medical and related expenses, legal fees and further relief, the suit said.

“He’s not after a set dollar amount. He just wants the security company or whoever else was beating him, twisting his arm out of socket, and spitting on him to answer for going overboard,” Evans said Monday in an email to The Times. “He should have been detained, and taken into custody. That’s it. What the security guards did to him and allowed others to do him goes beyond the scope of what’s acceptable.”

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