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Violence Threatens Nightclub's License

NE Hot Spot Dream Assailed By Police Chief

By Del Quentin Wilber and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 16, 2005; Page B01

Sports fans, politicians and celebrities filled the Dream nightclub, eating crab cakes and grooving to a popular rock band at a party thrown last week by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

The event, celebrating the start of the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament, was further proof that Dream is one of the city's premier nightspots, a place that has played host to former presidents. But D.C. police say the Northeast Washington club attracts criminals as well as VIPs and is so dangerous that it might need to be shut down.

Owner Marc Barnes, with confiscated fake IDs, says he is doing everything he can to prevent violence at Dream. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

Nightclub's Woes

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey says that at least 12 serious crimes have taken place in recent months inside Dream, a popular Northeast Washington nightclub, or in the area nearby. Here are the incidents that he cited in a letter to city regulators:

Feb. 27, 4 a.m.: Two men were punched by three others after leaving the club. A leather jacket and cell phone were stolen.

Feb. 26, 2:20 a.m.: A man was robbed at gunpoint of his cell phone, watch and $350 while walking from the club.

Feb. 26, 1 a.m.: A man was stabbed in the abdomen and head by someone with a broken bottle while inside the club.

Feb. 12, 2:45 a.m.: A security officer working inside Dream was assaulted by someone wildly swinging a knife at him.

Feb. 12, 12:05 a.m.: A woman was pushed in the face after an argument inside the club.

Jan. 29, 3:10 a.m.: Two men were stabbed a total of seven times during a fight inside the club.

Dec. 26, 12:01 a.m.: A security officer inside Dream was cut in the face by a broken bottle during an assault. D.C. police identified a suspect, who allegedly kicked and spit at police.

Dec. 12, 3:25 a.m.: A woman was assaulted by the father of her two children. The assault occurred in a car after an argument at the club.

Dec. 12, 1 a.m.: A man told police that the club's security officers pushed him down stairs, choked him and evicted him from the club.

Dec. 10, 2 a.m.: A military officer, trying to break up a fight inside the club, was hit in the head and cut by an unknown object.

Dec. 10, 1:40 a.m.: A man was struck in the face by someone holding a glass bottle. Then he was struck again by the same man with a bowl.

Dec. 5, 2:15 a.m.: A man said that someone punched him in the nose and face while he was in front of the club.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey cited recent beatings, a double stabbing on the dance floor and an armed robbery of a Dream patron in a letter urging the city's alcohol board to reevaluate the club's entertainment and liquor license. The "number and severity of the criminal offenses occurring at and around" Dream raise concern, he said.

The owner of the club said such incidents are infrequent, and he added that he is working to prevent violence and improve the area, once a blighted stretch.

Police officials, however, said they must deploy dozens of officers some nights to keep order on side streets. Several officers have even given Dream the moniker "Club Nightmare."

"We don't have to wait for a murder to happen before looking at it," Ramsey said last week. "I'm trying to put this on the radar screen."

His letter, dated Feb. 28, was the latest salvo in a debate over violence associated with the District's nightclubs. It was sent just weeks after the police department asked the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to revoke the liquor license of Club U, a Northwest Washington nightspot. Three homicides and several other violent incidents have occurred in or near Club U, which is housed in a D.C. government building in the gentrifying U Street corridor, police have said.

Officials said they plan to schedule a hearing about Dream in coming weeks. Possible penalties range from suspending and revoking Dream's license to altering the club's hours and security tactics, the officials said.

When he called for action against Club U, Ramsey had vocal support from community groups and a D.C. Council member. But his effort to look into Dream does not appear to be generating a groundswell of backing.

The chief's boss, the mayor, threw the party Wednesday heralding the basketball tournament. Williams's spokeswoman, Sharon Gang, said the mayor was aware of the violence at Dream. Gang noted that Ramsey has not called for the license to be revoked but only "re-evaluated."

"It's a business that is open and operating legally," Gang said. "He respects the chief's position."

D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), who represents the area, said he likes Dream and credits its owner with improving the surrounding community.

Many residents, including neighborhood leaders, said Dream has helped begin the transformation of a violent area into a more stable one. Dream took over a four-story building that once housed a film processing plant. Before the club arrived in 2001, the 1300 block on Okie Street NE in the New York Avenue corridor was known as a haven for drug addicts and prostitutes. The National Guard came into the area in the 1990s to help clean it up.

Today, residents said, the neighborhood is better lighted and safer.

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