Twenty-six-year-old Air Force veteran Joey Oertli was walking back to his car during the Winter on the Rocks concert at Red Rocks in 2018 when he was assaulted by two men. As he was being beaten, a security guard with Argus Event Staffing stood by watching, according to a lawsuit filed in Denver District Court by his father, attorney Richard Oertli, against the security company. Instead of trying to intervene, the Argus employee called police, and the assailants were arrested. Joey continues to suffer from traumatic brain injury and is uncertain about his prognosis.
Several months after the incident, Richard weighed suing the City and County of Denver, which operates the venue, as well as Argus. He eventually dropped the idea of taking the government to court, because case law makes it virtually impossible to sue such entities for injuries that happened in a public park.
But Richard did move forward with his lawsuit against Argus, arguing that the company failed to keep his son and other patrons safe on Red Rocks premises. The security company, which has not responded to requests for comment for this story, argued that it isn't responsible for protecting concert-goers who are leaving the amphitheater. A judge ruled in favor of Argus in January.
Richard, who says he will not be taking further action, is concerned that between the venue's security, which is run by Argus, police officers sprinkled throughout the parking areas, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department officers on traffic duty, not enough people are watching out for the safety of patrons as they leave.
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“The story about Red Rocks is that the security is contracted out through the City to Argus Security, which claims that it has NO RESPONSIBILITY to prevent harm to patrons OUTSIDE of the amphitheater,” says Richard in a statement to Westword. “The City of Denver pays only for security inside the amphitheater. As you know if you attend concerts there, much of the crowd is pretty well stoned or drunk by the end of the evening, and all of the officials KNOW that at least some of those people shouldn’t be driving, but they don’t want to do anything about it. There are no patrols preventing harm occurring to patrons in the entire area of the parking lots and the trails leading to them, or the UBER lines, or the taxi station, whatever. ... Jefferson County Sheriff’s department is only tasked with traffic duty and therefore there is no official presence keeping the crazies from hurting others and from driving out of there drunk and/or stoned. The Sheriff just waves them through, and EVERYONE IS LOOKING THE OTHER WAY.”
In a statement to Westword, Brian Kitts of Denver Arts & Venues, which oversees Red Rocks, disputes those assertions. “These claims are incorrect. Security is on site in areas outside of the amphitheater, and both Argus and police assisted Mr. Oertli the night of this incident. No one wants to minimize incidents like this, but respectfully, not only was Argus staff on hand to help Mr. Oertli, they were close enough to verify his version of events. Further, the police made arrests almost immediately, disproving the suggestion that there’s no security presence outside the venue.”
There were 121 criminal cases reported at 170 concerts at the venue in 2019, according to data from the Denver Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. The vast majority of those incidents were non-violent.
“All sports and entertainment venues, Red Rocks included, work to make venues as safe as possible for patrons,” notes Kitts. “One-point-three million people go through Red Rocks each season, and, fortunately, most fans are respectful of each other, and incidents of fan-on-fan violence are extremely rare.”