It was getting close to last call early Saturday morning at Flame Club, a midtown dive bar known for its cheap drinks and understated vibe, when Diana Anderson and her friend Tanya Faison spotted trouble brewing.
Two men at the bar began raising their voices, then swinging their fists.
“Everybody get out!” a manager yelled, and dozens of people abandoned their beers and cocktails and poured out the door.
“As soon as we got outside, we heard gunshots,” Anderson said. Their first instinct was to leave. But as they ran from the bar at 16th and V, “something told me I needed to go back,” Anderson said. They returned to find two men lying on the ground, and one was not moving. Anderson, who said she has long been certified in CPR but had never had to use it in an emergency situation, stepped in.
She pulled off her shirt, placed it between herself and the man’s bloodied body and began performing chest compressions, she said. “I figured I could maybe keep his heart going until first responders could take over.”
Police arrived about 20 minutes after shots were fired at around 1 a.m., while Anderson was on the ground working on the man, the two women recalled. Paramedics arrived a few minutes later.
One of the men later was pronounced dead. The other was reported to be in critical condition. Neither has been identified.
The experience has left Anderson and Faison emotionally reeling, with questions about exactly what happened at Flame Club, and by how authorities responded.
“I really like going to that bar,” Anderson said. “It’s got a diverse group of people and a good vibe. Everyone was having a good time that night.”
The area where the club is located has had a smattering of crime this year, according to data kept by the Sacramento Police Department. Through September of this year, police took reports of four robberies, three aggravated assaults and seven thefts or burglaries in the 2100 and 2200 blocks of 16th. The Flame Club is at 2130 16th St. Nearby businesses include other restaurants and a gas station.
Anderson and Faison said they were uncertain whether the fight inside the bar early Saturday was connected to the shooting moments afterward. They said neither of the shooting victims were involved in the bar brawl.
They were disturbed, they said, that the first officers to arrive didn’t medically tend to the two men right away. Instead, “they just watched my friend Diana, with her shirt off, with blood on her,” perform chest compressions “until I yelled at them to do something, to do their jobs,” Faison said. “Try to save him!”
“There was some life in him, still,” Anderson said. Ultimately, she said, officers relieved her.
As Faison stood at the scene, lashing out verbally at police, she said, one officer asked her if she is a member of Black Lives Matter, a group that advocates police reforms. Both Anderson and Faison are members of the group. Both of the shooting victims were black.
Paramedics loaded the men into ambulances at around 2 a.m., the women estimated. Anderson was left standing, shirtless and bloodied, “somewhat in shock,” she said. “I needed to cover up and wash up,” and asked officers for help. “No one asked me if I was OK, if I needed anything. I was standing there holding this bloody shirt up to my chest to cover myself.”
After repeated requests, she said, officers gave her a disposable gown to wear and she was allowed into the bar to clean up. She and Faison left the scene at around 5 a.m.
Officer Matthew McPhail, a Police Department spokesman, confirmed Monday that citizens “stopped and rendered aid to the victims” of the shooting, though he said he was unaware of the specific circumstances. He said such situations can be dangerous, and “people must decide for themselves” whether to jump in and risk the possibility that the shooter may remain in the area, or that they could be exposed to contaminated blood.
“We all have the urge to want to help our fellow man,” he said. “Even if the efforts are unsuccessful, we want to do the right thing. People have to look at the situation and decide whether it’s something they want to do.”
As to whether officers should have rendered medical aid to the shooting victims more quickly, McPhail said he had no details about what happened. But he said that in general, the first priority for arriving officers is to make sure that the area is safe in advance of the arrival of paramedics.
“Firefighters are not equipped to handle circumstances in which there still may be a gunman in the area who has caused a death,” he said. “While it might seem that officers are not immediately providing care to victims, it’s very important to make sure the scene is safe so that paramedics can come and provide that critical care. First aid is really intended to buy some time.”
During the first, critical minutes and hours after a shooting, he said, officers are focused not only on first aid but on such tasks as “identifying witnesses and looking for pieces of information that could be vital” to an investigation.
He acknowledged that, during the tense first minutes and hours after a crime has occurred, officers can be perceived as curt. He said he apologized if the women felt they were treated rudely.
“We don’t make it a point to be rude, but sometimes you need to be very direct to get your priorities handled,” he said. “Sometimes officers can, in the moment, turn off emotionally a bit because they are trying to function in the course of their jobs. We’re empathetic to people’s concerns, but there are a lot of things competing for our attention” at a crime scene. “Sometimes politeness is not at the top of the list.”
Anderson said she likely never will forget the image of a man dying in front of her in a midtown parking lot. “It was pretty traumatic,” she said. “I am going to need to do some healing.”
The trauma is compounded, she said, by the way she and her friend were treated at the scene.
“I did put myself at risk,” she said, by exposing herself to a stranger’s blood and rushing in to help without knowledge of whether a gunman still lurked.
She has no regrets about her actions, she said.
“I didn’t expect to be treated like a hero. But at the very least, I would have thought I would be treated with respect by the police.”
The Bee’s Phillip Reese contributed to this report.