A minute after an armed man tackled Dave Chappelle onstage Tuesday night in front of a sold-out Hollywood Bowl crowd, the comedian dusted himself off and then asked, “Where did that motherfucker come from?”
The attack at the Netflix Is a Joke festival has drawn questions about how the 23-year-old suspect sneaked in a folding knife and jumped onstage with ease, evading security guards who were supposed to protect the performer and control the crowd. Those guards were employed by Contemporary Services Corp., one of North America’s largest event-security companies, which has provided crowd protection at thousands of concerts, performances, and sporting events across the US, including Coachella and the Super Bowl.
But over the past decade, hundreds of people have been injured and dozens have died at events where CSC was among the vendors who provided security, including 2017’s Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas, where a shooter killed 60 people, and the November 2021 Astroworld tragedy, where a surging crowd trampled 10 people to death.
The company, which bills itself as the “world leader in crowd management and event security for the entertainment and sporting event industries,” has also been sued dozens of times by attendees, employees, and victims’ families for claims including negligence, personal injury, battery, and assault, as well as labor law violations. Some cases are ongoing, and in others, CSC has denied allegations of wrongdoing and settled.
Still, popular concert promoters like Live Nation as well as major venues like the Hollywood Bowl have continued to work with CSC to provide security for some of the country’s biggest and most well-attended events.
“[CSC] is everywhere. They just did Coachella. They are set to do EDC in Las Vegas in two weeks. They already have a contract for the next Super Bowl,” said Tommie Sunshine, an electronic music artist who has performed at Live Nation’s Electronic Daisy Carnival and other festivals overseen by CSC. “How do you give the security of the Super Bowl to the company that ran security for the event that had the biggest mass shooting in modern US history?”
A review of CSC’s online job postings, employee reviews, and court documents, as well as interviews with two people familiar with CSC operations, show that the company hires inexperienced people to staff its events. Most of those people are hired as independent contractors, absolving CSC of liability in some cases. Two people familiar with the hiring process also said CSC has sometimes failed to adequately train staff on how to handle potentially dangerous situations.
At Chappelle’s Hollywood Bowl show, a security staffer told BuzzFeed News that guards barely checked bags and were instructed to get people quickly into the venue so that they wouldn’t miss the performance.
“We were told there was going to be a big crowd and to get them in as fast as possible,” said the worker, who declined to be named for fear of retribution. “There were no details on what that meant and how to do it — just get them in as fast as possible.”
Isaiah Lee, the man accused of attacking Chappelle, was allegedly able to bring in a replica handgun containing a knife in his bag before making his way to the front row and leaping onstage. Minutes before he was tackled, Chappelle told the packed audience that he had brought his own security onstage due to increased threats against comedians. And it was members of his detail who caught the attacker onstage, witnesses said.
Tehran Von Ghasri, a comedian who performed at the Netflix festival, told BuzzFeed News that one security guard at Chappelle’s show dismissed his warning about Lee’s suspicious behavior moments before the attack.
Tehran, a friend of Chappelle’s, said he was sitting in the VIP section at the front of the stage when he saw the suspect slide over the barrier with his black hoodie up while carrying a backpack. Concerned, Tehran said he turned to the young security guard right behind him and flagged the suspicious behavior.
"She shrugged me off,” he said. “And within a minute, [the suspect] had hoisted himself onstage and knocked Chappelle down.” He added that two other CSC guards stood by as the attacker worked to climb another barrier and then rushed the stage.
Chappelle was uninjured in the attack. On Thursday, the Los Angeles city attorney's office charged Lee with four misdemeanors, including battery. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
A spokesperson for Chappelle did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the Hollywood Bowl, which has worked with CSC for years, said the venue is reviewing its “existing procedures both internally and with the assistance of outside experts.” It has also “implemented additional security measures, including an increased number of security personnel on-site to assist with bag checks and other security procedures,” the spokesperson said.
CSC, its founder, and its attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.
CSC is still run by its founder, Damon Zumwalt, who started the company after his first year of college in 1967. Based in Northridge, California, CSC is now one of the nation’s largest security companies, with about 50 branch locations across the US and Canada and 60,000 workers, according to its LinkedIn. For over five decades, CSC has provided security services for five presidential inaugurations, two FIFA World Cups, 31 Super Bowls, and nine Olympic Games.
“The future of CSC has never been brighter,” Zumwalt says in a letter to employees on the company’s website.
CSC has worked with Live Nation for at least a decade, and one of CSC’s Facebook pages states that it “provides crowd management services” for the promotion giant. Live Nation Entertainment and its subsidiary Live Nation Worldwide have also been linked to at least 750 injuries and around 200 deaths in seven countries since 2006, according to the Houston Chronicle and a letter from congressional lawmakers.
Live Nation and their attorney have not responded to questions from BuzzFeed News about these injuries and deaths.
In October 2017, 450 survivors of the Route 91 shooting in Las Vegas sued Live Nation and CSC for failing to “properly train and supervise employees in an appropriate plan of action in case of a foreseeable event, such as a terrorist attack or other emergency."
Following the shooting, in which a CSC employee was also killed, Zumwalt told CNBC that there was “nothing” his company could have done to prepare for that kind of situation.
“We plan for practically everything, but you don’t plan for something you can’t control, like a guy off-property,” he said. “That’s pretty devastating, and there’s just no real reason for that kind of insanity.”
In September 2020, MGM, Live Nation, and CSC settled with 4,400 people impacted by the mass shooting for $800 million.
Since Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival tragedy in November, 2,800 people have filed hundreds of lawsuits, naming Live Nation and CSC as codefendants, as well as Scott and other security vendors, claiming all were negligent in crowd control planning after a crowd surge led to the deadly stampede. Those lawsuits have since been consolidated into one large civil case that is ongoing.
“Many individuals were seen lifting up the unconscious bodies of friends and strangers and surfed them over the top of the crowd, hoping to send them to safety,” a lawsuit filed by the family of a 9-year-old who died from his injuries says. “Further, several individuals were shouting for help with CPR and pleading with Defendants to stop the concert.”
Live Nation and CSC have denied wrongdoing in the Astroworld case. Due to ongoing litigation, Live Nation said, they could not answer questions about the incident.
In a letter to Live Nation last December, members of Congress raised concerns about whether the company “took adequate steps to ensure the safety of the 50,000 concertgoers who attended Astroworld Festival,” citing reports that the security was “inexperienced or ill-equipped.” The letter also noted that “the tragedy at Astroworld Festival follows a long line of other tragic events and safety violations involving Live Nation.” An investigation by the House Oversight Committee is ongoing, and a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that lawmakers are working on a bipartisan basis to "obtain answers."
Live Nation declined to respond to BuzzFeed News’ list of questions about its safety protocols and CSC, citing a publicity order from the judge overseeing Astroworld’s civil lawsuits.
Last year, a woman who was sexually assaulted at the 2019 BottleRock festival in Napa sued CSC and other organizers for being negligent and causing her “devastating emotional distress as a result of the assault.” She said in court documents that when she flagged the incident to CSC guards, she was “dismissed.”
The parties proposed a settlement in the case last month, which is awaiting a judge's approval, court records show.
CSC’s success is largely due to its ability to constantly staff massive events across North America, often back-to-back. According to a staffer, job reviews, and lawsuits, the company does not properly train workers.
Over the past 30 years, the company has been sued dozens of times by patrons and the people it hires. In 2016, Deadspin reported that CSC had been sued at least 21 times in federal court since 1991 on claims of assault, battery, personal injury, and civil rights violations. Many cases resulted in out-of-court settlements between the parties, with CSC denying the accusations.
In multiple lawsuits, including a massive class action suit spanning 13 years, CSC workers have accused the company of creating unsafe environments by failing to train workers and violating labor laws. Some of their lawsuits alleged that CSC cut corners by hiring inexperienced people at low wages to fill positions shortly before events were set to begin. Several CSC workers have been trampled at festivals and sporting events, court records show.
At Miami’s Ultra Music Festival in 2014, a CSC security guard named Erica Mack suffered two skull fractures, severe brain hemorrhaging, and a broken leg after gate-crashers trampled her, according to a $10 million gross negligence lawsuit she filed against Ultra, CSC, and others responsible for the event.
In her lawsuit, Mack, then 29, alleged that CSC knowingly put her in an area vulnerable to gate-crashers, given past incidents, and took down stronger fencing at the request of a beverage company vendor, leaving her helpless. The complaint stated that there were “insufficient CSC security guards and police” and that they failed to “provide adequately trained personnel in the area where she was injured,” ultimately failing “to maintain a safe workplace.”
“CSC placed Mack in direct contact with violent individuals without warning her of the danger and without putting reasonable, minimum safeguards in place to protect her from foreseeable, serious bodily harm,” the lawsuit stated.
The defendants argued that there was not enough evidence to prove gross negligence and that they were not liable for her injuries because Mack was not an employee but a contractor. The case was eventually dismissed.
In 2020, hundreds of CSC workers settled with the company for $1.22 million after accusing them of failing to pay their minimum wages, not giving them rest or meal breaks, and not reimbursing them for expenses, among other alleged labor law violations. As part of the settlement agreement, CSC denied all liability and asserted that the workers’ claims had no merit and the company had acted lawfully.
Some CSC workers have also raised concerns on Glassdoor, a jobs site where employees can leave anonymous reviews for companies. CSC has 3.8 stars and many reviewers praise the flexibility, the ability to see concerts, and “easy-going staff.” But others have complained about the low pay, lack of breaks, and lack of training.
In one review for CSC from April 2 of this year, a person wrote that the company is prone to changing rules and policies on a whim and that “the pay sucks considering the type of work we do and sometimes the job can be dangerous.” Another, from Sept. 12, 2021, said, “There's no training for the job. You get yelled at by customers because you're not doing a job that you were never trained for correctly.”
In a 2011 review, a person who said they were an independent contractor for CSC wrote that “advanced training for event staff is ‘call the police when u see someone dying.’"
Several online job postings from CSC show that the company requires no previous security experience and pegs the job as “something fun and exciting” and an opportunity to “experience some of the greatest in entertainment.”
“No experience necessary We Will Train You and we offer paid training for all Nevada PILB Security Guard positions,” one Las Vegas job posting by CSC reads.
On March 18, CSC posted part-time positions for event staff and security jobs for the Hollywood Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and other LA venues for $15 to $17 an hour.
The staffer who worked security at Chappelle’s show the night of the attack told BuzzFeed News that there wasn’t “a real hiring process” and that he easily got the CSC job through a friend because the company was looking to staff up quickly. He claimed that other CSC contractors there had not worked security before and did not have experience using metal detectors or thoroughly checking bags.
CSC also barely provided any training, he alleged, adding that two days before the show, the company hosted a security briefing and then gave everyone a blue-and-yellow T-shirt.
On the day of the event, CSC security leaders held a meeting for their sections, the worker told BuzzFeed News, warning that there was going to be a big crowd and to get people in as fast as possible so there would not be a buildup outside when the show began at 7 p.m.
“The crowd started getting bigger, and I was thinking the whole time there is no way people were being thoroughly checked at the rate people were walking in,” said the security employee, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation. “I feel anyone could have brought anything in.”
Gil Fried, an expert in crowd management who wrote a textbook called Academy for Venue Safety and Security, said it is not a safe business practice to hire inexperienced workers for major events.
“Hiring, training, and supervising people that are working on the front lines is the most critical element of any crowd management plan,” he said. “The more time you spend investing in people, the better. That will help create the safest environment possible.”
Los Angeles authorities are now investigating how the assailant breached security and accessed the Hollywood Bowl stage during Tuesday's Chappelle show.
Brushing off the seriousness of the attack that night, Chappelle acknowledged that he was lucky while addressing the crowd:
“Thank god that nigga was clumsy.”