In a stark contrast to the lack of local coverage before the Backwoods Camping and Music Festival, media outlets near and far have paid more attention to the event after the fact. Tragically, the attention has centered on the death of one attendee.
Patrick Murphy, 34, died Sept. 5 after security personnel at Backwoods subdued him for “erratic” behavior, according to a story KFOR.com posted the afternoon of Sept. 8. At the time of Murphy’s death, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was treating the incident as a potential homicide investigation.
Shortly after KFOR’s story, NewsOn6.com posted a story saying, “Lincoln County authorities said there was an altercation between Patrick and security, and drugs may have been involved.” By the 10 o’clock news on Sept. 8, KFOR had quotes from Patrick’s father, Terrence.
“[A friend] told me that my son became kind of acting crazy, tried to climb the fence,” Terrence was quoted as saying in the 10 o’clock KFOR story.
By Sept. 9, news of the death had reached the Associated Press, and even Billboard ran a brief version. According to the AP story, “Murphy was naked and running toward the stage when guards subdued and handcuffed him.” This came from David Batton, an attorney for Norman-based Event Security LLC, the company hired to handle security at Backwoods. According to the AP story, Batton “was told Murphy didn’t stop breathing until he was in an ambulance.”
Speculation online and in media has alluded to Patrick Murphy’s death either stemming from a drug overdose or from excessive use of force by security, the most authoritative answer remains in the hands of the State Medical Examiner’s office, which will conduct a toxicology report.
Prior to widespread media coverage about the death, Backwoods organizers released a statement Sept. 7 on Facebook regarding security personnel at the event. The statement conspicuously avoids any mention of Murphy’s death but does “apologize for anyone who had a less than positive experience with security at Backwoods this year.”
According to the statement, Event Security LLC was fired and won’t be returning for duty next year owing to ” several incidents” of “inappropriate actions.”
In a lengthy comment thread beneath Backwoods’ Facebook post, several other Facebook users took the opportunity to voice their dismay with security personnel. Noting the glaring omission of any mention of Patrick Murphy’s death in the original post, user Jennie Lawrence commented on Sept. 9: “HOW ABOUT THE MAN THEY KILLED?!”
For those like Lawrence claiming abuse from security led to Murphy’s death, at least one other incident involving security personnel caused bodily injury to a band’s manager at the show. According to the AP story cited above, tour manager Ricardo Romero said he had to have his arm stitched up at a hospital after a security guard cut him while trying to remove a wristband.
On the other hand, the possibility that illegal drugs played a role in Murphy’s death remains plausible, given that illegal drug use is practically ubiquitous at festivals like Backwoods. In early August of this year, the deaths of two teen-aged women from suspected drug overdoses prompted officials in Los Angeles County to consider banning music festivals from county property. At the same festival at which the two women died, “29 other festivalgoers were treated for drug- or alcohol-related problems and two people were hospitalized in critical condition after falling and hitting their heads,” according to an Associated Press story appearing on Billboard’s website.
Regarding the tragedy at Backwoods, Patrick Murphy’s father said he thinks his son’s death was due to force used by security officers.
“I don’t care if he was on drugs,” Terrence Murphy told the AP. “They claim my son was acting erratic. Everyone was acting erratic. That’s the norm. If you weren’t erratic, you’d be the weird one.”
The Backwoods incident is not Event Security LLC’s first involvement in a concert-related death. The company is currently named as a defendant in ongoing civil litigation for an incident at the Farmer’s Public Market on July 11, 2013. During a Chief Keef show at the venue, an off-duty police officer hired to provide security killed 24-year-old Brian Simms, Jr.