Street musician: Security at Detroit Opera House pepper-sprayed me

Frank McCullers, 53, plays trumpet outside of the Opera House in downtown Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.
Frank McCullers, 53, plays trumpet outside of the Detroit Opera House in downtown Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Update at 1:10 p.m.: The Detroit Opera House responded to the allegations Monday afternoon. Their response is below.  

Frank McCullers has been playing trumpet on the sidewalk outside 0f the Detroit Opera House for a decade, becoming a popular fixture on Broadway Street.

Event-goers regularly stuff his tattered trumpet case with singles and fives, often pausing to admire the precision of his horn, a skill he sharpened over the past 50 years as a jazz musician. He began playing the trumpet at the age of 3 at the urging of his father, who performed with some of Motown’s greats.

But now the 53-year-old jazz musician said the Detroit Opera House wants him off the sidewalk. McCullers said he was on Broadway trying to talk to security about his right to play there when one of the guards told him to take off about two weeks ago.

“I was on a public street, and he told me to leave,” McCullers told me Sunday afternoon. “I told him I had a right to be on the public street. When I told him I didn’t want to leave until I talked to the head of security, he pulled out a can of pepper spray and just started spraying me. I wasn’t threatening him or walking onto their property.”

Witnesses said they saw McCullers in pain and being treated for pepper spray but didn’t witness the alleged assault.

“I’m not hurting anyone by playing on a sidewalk,” McCullers said. “People look forward to hearing me. They know me, you know? This is what I’ve been doing for 10 years.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether surveillance video captured the incident.

Jillian Zylinski, communications coordinator for the Opera House, sent this response Monday afternoon:

1) We have allowed Frank, along with a number of street musicians, to perform in front of the Detroit Opera House and on our private property for years. We truly support them, and love the feeling and atmosphere they can bring. We have also allowed Frank to stay warm in the parking garage lobby over the years.

2) During the run of “Wicked,” we had more than 80,000 patrons visit DOH. The safety and security of our patrons is top priority for DOH.

3) Along with Frank, there is another street musician who plays the saxophone. Two weeks ago the two musicians got into a physical altercation with each other, where they beat each other with their instruments. Detroit Police and EMS were called. Frank called three news outlets to report the incident telling them one of “our musicians” assaulted him. We had to physically separate the two, and keep the area clear to protect our patrons. When Frank called the press about the assault, he led the press to believe that the fight was with one of our orchestra musicians, not the other street musician. The fight was between the two street musicians fighting over “territory” they wanted (playing spots).

4) We asked both musicians to stay further separated and remain off our private property until things calm down between the two of them. DPD also instructed them to remain away from the facility completely.

5) Frank came back again a few days later. Again, he was yelling across the street to the other musician. Our security officer asked him to leave the property, as he was on our private property. He refused. He was asked to remove himself from our private property he was on again. He again refused. We told him he did not have to leave the area, but to remove himself from DOH property. Frank was then very upset that he was being told not to be on what he has come to call “his territory”. Frank began to push, and swing his instrument to attack the security officer, in the same manner he had with the musician the previous night. This is when the officer did pepper spray Frank for his safety and for the safety of those around him. Frank then left the area.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • mediabites

    I would rather get pepper sprayed than listen to Franks performance.

  • mediabites

    Frank needs a real job, not one that entails caterwauling extortion passing itself off as entertainment.
    I would ban this crack smoking denizen of the deep from my grounds, if I owned or managed the venue.
    Why don’t he go ply his wares at a drug house?

  • marco baroli

    Niggers be niggers

  • Tidwekk

    Now that Frank and his horn are gone, who will take his spot? Three kids drumming on white buckets?

    • Fergus

      I see nothing here affirming that Frank is “gone” — or for that matter that the sax player is gone . . . or anything to advance the story, which, if any of the assertions by the Opera Theatre are true, is pretty much a non-story.

      It would have been one hell of a photo op, though, if anyone had gotten a shot of a street trumpet player and a street sax player “beating each other with their instruments.”

  • Lisa Jo Jackson

    Thank you for more on the story.

  • Ballsy Terri

    So this guys whines to you, and you decide “I’ll just assume he’s telling the truth because he’s a poor black guy, and this story will really make all those white rich people look awful”.
    No need to find out both sides of the story; this dirty journalism will get me more clicks!!!!
    Yea for Steve!!!

  • Fergus

    And the reason a reader is not supposed to suspect a likely substantial modicum of truth in the press release is . . . ?

  • Jarah Lo

    The article says they didn’t know about the incident, I posted about this and under the post someone shared the site of the Opera House where we all started messaging them about it. They said then they didn’t know. Then to the next person, “This is the first I’ve heard ” then to the third, forth, and so on. Then they deleted all of our posts under Opera House reviews. So they knew.

    This is the post I made that prompted people to respond :
    While feeling sick in the coffee shop, a tall, large man came walking in, stopped near me, began screaming, “Aggggghhh! Agggfffhhhhhaaa! Help I need water!” A barrista brought him water. He didn’t drink it. Instead he puts it in his eyes, up his nose, over his face, all the while screaming out, “Help me Lord help me!”
    I was watching and assessing, thinking, “Does he need psychiatric or medical intervention?” Feeling confident I could provide either, I went to him and asked what’s wrong. He tells me he was pepper sprayed in the eyes for playing his trumpet on the sidewalk while suburbanites file into the show, Wicked. I tell him he’s making it hotter with water. I get him to sit and start asking for Pepto Bismal or antacid liquids, no luck. I asked for milk, score milk.
    3 people start backing out of the coffee shop before ordering. The barrista calls out, “I can help you guys!” They turn around and instead walk briskly down the street. I start pouring milk into his eyes. A customer brings me Tums, hears I’m asking for antacids. Lol. I put them down at first, think about it, then place them between napkins and stomp them into a powder with my heel, dump them into milk, stir, and put it in his eyes. Then I soak a bar towel with the milk and tell him to hold it over his face. (Thank you, Anonymous Street Medic Training Academy. Didn’t learn those moves in nursing school.) Jeezus! Finally he stops screaming. Gives a bazillion thanks.
    My husband, a field medic during the Egyptian Revolution, walks out of the bathroom and was given the gist. He fills a bowl with mild dish detergent and water after the burn subsides and submerges the man’s face for 10 seconds at a time to get the oily spray out of his skin. (Nice save, Mahmoud Fouad.)
    I inform him of his rights to file assault charges on the rent-a-cop infront of the Opera House. He was on a public sidewalk by all accounts. He calls and files a report and asks for my number incase he needs a witness…

    • Ballsy Terri

      Jeez; you will tell this harrowing tale for the rest of your life, and every year this guy’s injuries will get more severe.
      Hands up; don’t shoot…

    • Fergus

      QUOTE: ” . . . pepper sprayed in the eyes for playing his trumpet on the sidewalk while suburbanites file into the show.”

      What’s with this SUBURBANITE crap, anyway? Perhaps you can explain.

      I once bought a pocket trumpet, coincidentally, in the pawn shop that was in the Broadway Capitol Theatre (now the opera house) building. I regularly had a taste at Petrone’s Lounge (same building) — where one afternoon all of us barflies realized that three of us had the same name, and one of us ran across the street to Vic’s Dirty Books to see what number the Dream Book would have us play as a result. I could bore you with other stories from the neighborhood — ALL of them gathered when I was a card-carrying Detroit suburbanite.

      Now, from afar, as I set out to discover what the hell is going on back there, all I can find is city people bitching about suburban people and Old Detroit bitching about New Detroit and Black Detroit bitching about White Detroit and vice-versa. I know it’s kinda late in the game, but maybe those awful capitalists really OUGHT to go salvage Wayne or Center Line or someplace.

      I do remember when it would have been amusing for ANY street musician trying to pick up a few bucks from the homeless and the junkies snoring through Kung Fu movies at the future Opera House.

      • Jarah Lo

        Suburbanites was used as a descriptive. I was hearing all the folks in the cafe (btw it was 1515 Broadway if you are familiar with the territory) talking about how Detroit had changed, when they come to Detroit this is their favorite place, etc…and they were here because of Wicked which they came to see. So yeah, it was a descriptive.

        • Fergus

          Apparently “suburbanite” wasn’t used in the tribal sense that I read it. If so, my bad. Yeah, I knew the block. It was different.

  • bebow

    I was only following orders.
    The Nuremberg Defense

    • Don’t forget the corollary, the Yuppie Nuremberg Defense.

      Everyone has a mortgage to pay.

      • Ballsy Terri

        Amazing book. Those companies were like the Mafia multiplied exponentially.
        And they’re only allowed to exist now because of the revenue they provide Washington.
        And of course the payout they coughed up to the states 15 years ago.