VIDEO: Women seek justice after firefighter punches, throws them to the ground

(WXYZ) - Two suburban women are turning to the 7 Action News Investigators looking for justice.

They say they were viciously attacked outside of a bar in Hamtramck, and the man who hit them is an off-duty Detroit Firefighter.

The question is: did he use his badge to wiggle off the hook?

It all happened on Paczki Day last year. Samantha Strozynski and her friend Jennifer Panduren went out together, doing some bar-hopping to celebrate Fat Tuesday in Hamtramck.

At the Mars Bar, Strozynski struck up a conversation with an off-duty Detroit firefighter named Mike Risher.

Just before 5:00 p.m., all hell broke loose outside the bar as Strozynski and Panduren were leaving. Paczki day suddenly turned into "punch me" day. As the women were standing on the sidewalk near a crosswalk, they had words with Risher, a burly firefighter and body builder.

Strozynski said she told Risher that she and Panduren were going to get something to eat. She said Risher wanted to go along and became agitated and wouldn't take no for an answer.

"So Jennifer got upset and looked at him and said, 'why are you following us'?" said Strozynski.

The women told 7 Action News that Risher threatened to "F" them up.

"I said to him, I was like, 'Oh, you're big, you're gonna punch a girl?'And, yea, I ate my words I guess you can say because he definitely did," said Panduren.

Security video from the Mars Bar shows the women being hit and knocked off their feet. First, Panduren is seen staggering backward after Risher pushed and punched her, witnesses said.

Then Stozynski is seen getting punched in the head and going down hard to the pavement. Next, the video shows Panduren stepping forward again, throwing a kick in the firefighter's direction, getting punched a second time and falling face down into a concrete planter.

"When I took the fall the second time, I bashed my head up there and ended up with three herniated discs in my neck. He dislocated my jaw, chipped like four or five of my teeth," said Panduren.

"When I first went to see my chiropractor he told me that the force of the punch that I took was the equivalent of getting hit by a car going 45 miles an hour," Strozynski said.

In the security video, both women are seen sitting on the ground briefly after being hit and they appear to be temporarily dazed. Then, male customers are seen rushing out of the bar trying to restrain Risher. At one point, at least six men are seen attempting to hold Risher down. But, he still breaks free.

Also in the video, Panduren, who admitted she was drunk and very angry at being punched, jumped into the scrum as male bar patrons were trying to restrain Risher. Next, Strozynski is seen pulling Panduren to the ground and attempting to hold her back.

"And I just knew that if she continued it was only going to fuel the fire and make things worse," Strozynski told 7 Action News. After Risher broke free from the men trying to restrain him, he is seen getting in Strozynski's face again as she is holding onto her friend. At that point, the video shows Strozynski throwing a punch at Risher.

"I mean it was either I sat there and I let him punch me, you know, or I defended myself," said Strozynski.

When Hamtramck police arrived Risher claimed that the fight actually started inside the bar and that Panduren started the brawl by hitting him in the face twice.  He claimed that he swung back and had to defend himself after other people jumped in.

But the owner of the Mars Bar, who reviewed all of the security videos, inside and outside, told 7 Action News that there was no fighting inside the bar and it looked to him like Risher simply punched the two women after they had words.

Two other witnesses told police that Risher "had gone ballistic, throwing punches at Strozinski and Panduren".

The 7 Action News Investigators tracked down one of those two witnesses. He told Scott Lewis that he just happened to be walking by when the incident happened and that he didn't know any of the people involved.  He said he waited around to talk to police because he had never seen anybody hit someone that hard.

A police report on the incident lists Risher's height at six-feet, two-inches tall and weight at 275 pounds. Strozynski said she is four-feet, eleven-inches tall and Panduren put her height at five feet, one inch.

That witness who was tracked down by 7 Action News also said that  when he told one of the officers what he saw, a cop responded: "I can tell you right now, not much is going to come of this because he's a Detroit fireman."

Police did arrest Risher and Panduren for disorderly conduct and both charges were later dismissed by a judge.

When Strozinski got a copy of the security video from the Mars Bar, she said tried repeatedly to file a police

report in Hamtramck, to no avail.

"Nobody would ever let us make a police report," Stozynski said.

"You wanted to press charges for assault?" Scott Lewis asked.

" Absolutely!" Strozynski said emphatically.

Both women told Lewis they believe that Risher got a free pass from the Hamtramck Police Department because of his position as a Detroit firefighter.

When the 7 Action News Investigators approached Risher to get his side of the story he seemed to have amnesia.  Lewis said he wanted to talk to him about the incident at the Mars Bar.

"(Do) you know what I'm talking about?"  Lewis asked.

"I'm not sure what the Mars Bar is," Richer replied.

"The incident where you punched the two ladies?" Lewis asked.

"Ah,no," Risher replied.

"You don't recall it?" Lewis persisted.

" No, I didn't punch any ladies," Risher stated.

When Lewis told Risher he had security video of the incident and offered to show it to him, he declined.  Then his memory seemed to improve.

"The fight had started earlier than that and I jumped in to help out so, you know, I'm not sure exactly what you have or if you have the whole entire thing, I don't know," Risher said.

Risher denied using his badge to get a pass in Hamtramck.

But is the incident outside of the Mars Bar a case of déjà vu?

The Investigators dug into Risher's past and discovered he and a former girlfriend, whom he later married, were involved in an eerily similar bar brawl back in 2006.

That was also caught on a security video tape obtained by 7 Action News.

According a lawsuit filed in Macomb County Circuit Court, Risher's girlfriend started the fight with a newly-wed couple and Risher jumped into the fray. The lawsuit says that when police arrived Risher "flashed his firefighter badge" and claimed the victim was the aggressor.

Attorney Roy Transit, who represented the couple, said the police just accepted Risher's story as the truth because he worked as a Detroit firefighter.

"And then it immediately went against my client and they arrested her, rather than listening to anything they had to say or going and looking at the video tape that the bar had," Transit said.

The Macomb County Prosecutor eventually dropped the charges and the couple sued Risher and his wife.  The couple won a judgment ordering the Risher's to pay $15,000. Transit said the Risher's stopped making payments and still owe the couple about $11,000.

In their lawsuit, the couple claimed that Risher's angry assault was fueled by the use of steroids.

"Risher appears to be suffering from the effects of too many steroids," says the suit.

"He has a larger than usual physique and a violent temper which he has trouble controlling," Transit wrote in a court filing.

Our 7 Action News investigation also uncovered allegations of violence at home. Police reports indicate that officers were called to the Risher's home three times for domestic incidents.  In one case, Risher's wife claimed that he pushed her into a table and knocked the wind out of her. The report noted that Risher's wife had a small scrape on her body and said that she wanted to press charges. However, there is no indication in police or court records that any charges were ever filed.

Strozynski and Panduren said that Risher's past paints a troubling picture for a man who wears a badge and gets paid with tax dollars.

"He doesn't deserve it. He doesn't. There are so many other people out there who are so much more deserving than he is," said Strozynski.

7 Action News emailed Risher a copy of the security video from the Mars Bar.  We asked him to point out where in the video he was seen intervening in another fight as he claimed. We also asked him about allegations raised in the prior bar fight and the alleged assault on his wife.

Risher did not respond.

The Investigators also contacted Hamtramck Police Chief Maxwell Garbarino and asked him why officers did not allow the women to make a report or look at their video. Garbarino, who was not the chief at the time of the incident, indicated that a detective should have followed up on the complaint.  Garbarino has now assigned a detective to take a fresh look at the incident and he said both women will be brought into the police department for interviews.

7 Action News also contacted Detroit Fire Commissioner Donald Austin and asked him whether Risher's behavior could be in violation of any fire department rules or regulations.  Austin indicated he would be watching our investigation and stated that there is a chance Risher could be charged departmentally with conduct unbecoming of a firefighter.

The second video in the player above is the raw surveillance video. 

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