Officer testifies against bouncer

Prosecutors said a former Choices Nightclub bouncer not only helped murder suspect Hugo Baez by driving him out of town, but also that Brandon A. Midder kicked and tried to pistol whip a wounded Willie Solomon as he lay in the entranceway of the Sixth Avenue club.

Altoona Detective Cpl. Marshall Worling testified Monday during Midder’s preliminary hearing on assault, conspiracy and gun charges that video from the club shows Midder, 24, of 317 Sixth Ave., pull a pistol from his pocket and rush to Baez’s side after the 20-year-old Baez shot Solomon just inside the door of the club the night of Oct. 31. With the video playing in the courtroom, Worling used a laser pointer to show how Midder stood in the entryway where Solomon was believed to be laying and raised his arm before swinging downwards, at which point the gun slips from Midder’s hand and hits the floor.

Midder’s attorney, Steven Passarello argued before Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker that the video doesn’t show Midder pistol whipping anyone, and Solomon isn’t even shown in the video.

“The most this video shows is my guy making a motion, and he drops the gun,” Passarello said.

“The video doesn’t show my client kicking anyone, and it doesn’t show the victim.”

The video does show Midder raise his arm before he and other patrons scramble to recover the gun and its clip on the bar room floor, footage Worling and prosecutors said was a pistol whipping, or at least an attempt.

The video of the deadly Halloween incident does clearly show the 20-year-old Dormevil exit the club, followed closely by Baez, who then pulled a silver-colored handgun. After Baez pointed the gun out the door, and according to police fired a shot at Dormevil, footage shows the 22-year-old Solomon rush toward Baez. As Solomon reaches Baez, Baez turned and fired at least two shots before Solomon slumped out of the camera’s view.

Even though he’s shot, Solomon continued to struggle with Baez in the hall as the two moved toward the bar room. At one point, Baez is seen standing in the doorway, gun in hand, as Dormevil is seen reaching back inside the door to grab Baez’s gun. Solomon’s hand enters the frame from below in a frantic attempt to grab a hold of Baez’s arm.

Footage of Midder was less clear since only one camera, from across the club’s bar room, captured his actions. Prosecutors argued Midder was joining in on the assault while his attorney contended there was no evidence, not even on video, to support that theory.

Passarello argued Midder, who was not working, was at the club’s bar, getting a drink and talking to a patron when Baez opened fire on the brothers, and he only rushed to the doorway when called by other patrons.

Worling testified Midder told him that he went to the door because, as a bouncer, he thought it was his duty, a point Passarello used to defend his client’s involvement.

Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard pointed out that instead of breaking up the confrontation, Midder joined in with Baez, first with the attempted pistol whipping and then with kicks. Video shows Midder after his gun is retrieved, pointing it at the door where another video camera shows Soloman’s brother, Dormevil, peeking his head inside the door.

Still, Passarello argued there never was any conspiracy between Baez and Midder to shoot Solomon, and even with the video, prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to support aggravated assault charges since no one testified Monday that Midder even injured the already shot Solomon.

“An agreement doesn’t have to be spoken,” Bernard told Auker. “An argument can be actions.”

Midder was arrested as he allegedly tried to drive Baez out of town in the hours after the shooting. Baez offered Midder, who had left the club and driven to Bellwood, $100 to drive him to Harrisburg, Midder allegedly told police after his arrest. A duffel bag placed in Midder’s car by Baez held a 20-gauge shotgun and a .40 caliber handgun, according to police.

Passarello argued police had no evidence Midder, a convicted felon who is not allowed to possess a gun, knew the guns were in the car, but video footage shown in court clearly showed Midder had a gun in the club, something he allegedly admitted to police after his arrest.

“For the court, it’s all about the video,” Auker said, noting that while some of Midder’s actions captured on video are open to interpretation, it was clear he didn’t intervene in order to break up the confrontation or disarm Baez. What Midder was doing in the video, Auker said, ultimately must be decided in Blair County Court, and prosecutors had shown enough evidence to bind all charges over for trial.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.