Murders Close DC Clubs

Growing public alarm over a wave of homicides in Prince George’s County prompted officials to shutter nine nightclubs, most of which are inside the Capitol Beltway, March 29th.

The closings came two days after the county, which now leads the region in homicides for the year, recorded its 11th homicide in 11 days, bringing the total for the year to 39, according to the Washington Post.

County executive Jack Johnson alleged the clubs are magnets for violent crime and said something has to be done.

"I am putting all clubs on notice," Johnson told the Post. "Either obey the law and run a safe, orderly entertainment facility in our county, or you will be closed down."

Johnson said the county decided to use a new law allowing authorities to close any business they believe poses "an imminent danger and threat" to the public and suspend the use and occupancy permits for the nine clubs. Police were reportedly inundated with calls about noise, assaults, robberies and homicides.

P.G. County Police Chief Melvin High told the Post some clubs routinely require 20 to 30 – and sometimes 50 – police officers to maintain safety.

"When we have to assign 50 police officers to one place to keep order there, that means all of those officers are pulled from throughout the county," High said. He pointed out that two of the recent 11 deaths were directly linked to two of the nine shuttered clubs.

The closures took club owners and managers by surprise, and most said they had not been warned before police showed up with notices.

Eric Pickens, a manager at Le Pearl, one of the shuttered clubs, denied there was a direct link between the club and the death of Francis Bell, who was found shot in his car in a parking lot near the nightspot. He said that county code enforcement officials visited the club seven times in the past year and didn’t find any serious violations. Pickens also said officials are just trying to shift blame for the rise in violence onto legitimate businesses.

"I definitely don’t think it’s a good idea," Pickens told the Post. "I know there’s a spike in violence, and I know [Johnson] wants to do something imminently, but I just don’t know if this is the answer."

Johnson initially told the Post that it was his intention to keep the clubs closed forever, but he and other county officials worked out a compromise. Negotiations began after five of the clubs – Tick Tock, Millenium, Cuzco, Crossroads and Le Pearl – banded together to seek an injunction against the closures and a judge issued a temporary restraining order March 30th barring the county from closing them.

P.G. County Circuit Judge Thomas Smith ruled that county officials hadn’t properly warned the owners and had failed to provide them with specific reasons for the closures.

The ruling prompted Johnson to meet with the owners of the clubs April 1st and reach an agreement that would allow them to stay open for a few months while officials decide what additional security measures each individual club will have to take to remain open permanently.

Three of the four other clubs – CFE, Knights of Columbus and Tradewinds – did not join in seeking the injunction and will remain closed. The fourth club, Classics III, remains open under a stay granted last September after the owner challenged new county restrictions on strip clubs in federal court.

The rising problems surrounding clubs in D.C. and adjacent areas have also prompted the closure of the Granby Theater in Norfolk, Va., following a non-fatal shooting inside the club March 27th, and the proposal of a bill in the District of Columbia aimed at helping to curb underage drinking and violence at clubs.