Prince George’s shuts MSG nightclub, site of fatal shooting

August 10, 2011

Prince George’s County police and environmental resources officials have shuttered a Capitol Heights nightclub where a 20-year-old woman was fatally shot Monday, and misdemeanor criminal charges have been filed against club officials for allowing dancing without an appropriate license.

The MSG nightclub’s practices came under scrutiny after the fatal drive-by shooting, which police said took place outside the club after an event with dancing and underage drinking.

Police said they had no suspects or motive in the shooting. But MSG officials are facing criminal as well as civil charges in connection with their management of the club. In addition to the misdemeanor charges, the club was given a violation notice for allowing dancing without a dance-hall permit.

“There have been countless acts of violence at that location,” said Maj. George Nader, commander of the District III station. “When we had the zoning-code violation, that’s what we chose to go through on.”

Police identified those charged as MSG owner Eric Pickens; managers Jerome Tillery and Ronald Dixon; and employee Darryl Robinson. Each faces one count of operating a facility or event without a public dance-hall license, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

In an interview Wednesday, Pickens said he planned to fight the charges. He said other restaurants and bars throughout Prince George’s often allowed dancing even without dance-hall licenses.

“They’re saying anyone who has an individual who gets up and dances fits the description,” Pickens said. “It’s pretty sad that somebody lost their life and [officials are] going to grandstand and say they shut the MSG down for dancing.”

The case marks the first use of a new county law, passed in July, that gives the police chief and other officials broad authority to close so-called dance halls if they lack the proper permits or are deemed a threat to public safety.

Police sources said the department chose to pursue permit violations because it is difficult to prove that clubs are legally responsible for violence in or near them.

Brad Goshen, an assistant associate director at the Department of Environmental Resources, said that the club was given a “violation notice” Monday for operating a dance hall without a license and that it had 72 hours to appeal. (The club’s owners had not appealed as of Wednesday afternoon.) The order instructs the club to “cease all [dance-hall] activities” until it obtains a license.

Other police efforts to close clubs have been stifled. In 2007, then-Prince George’s Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) tried to close nine nightclubs under a county law that allowed officials to shut down businesses deemed “an imminent danger and threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

A Circuit Court judge stopped five of the closures, saying officials failed to offer specific grounds for them. The clubs and the county eventually reached a deal, and the establishments were allowed to stay open.

Monday’s shooting occurred outside the MSG just before 3 a.m. Police said Jasmine Jerona Banks of District Heights was standing outside the club when she was hit in the head. She died the next day.

A 20-year-old man was grazed by gunfire but was expected to survive, police said.

Emma L. Banks, 65, said her granddaughter was a fairly recent graduate of Suitland High School who was in a training program to work in the medical field.

She added that her granddaughter had a “beautiful, quiet spirit.”

Emma Banks said she had not heard about police efforts to close the MSG but thought that any club that posed a threat to public safety should face the same fate.

“Clubs where violence takes place, they need to be monitored or shut down,” she said.

Including Monday’s shooting, seven of the county’s 64 homicides in 2011 have had a link to nightclubs or dance halls, compared with three in 2010 and four in 2009, police officials said.

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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