Nightclub Shooting May Beget Legislation

Smarta/Broadway, at 1919 Ninth St. NW, also known as Club 1919, has temporarily been closed by police.
Smarta/Broadway, at 1919 Ninth St. NW, also known as Club 1919, has temporarily been closed by police. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Levine and Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 22, 2007

In the wake of a teenager's death this weekend in a packed District nightspot, D.C. Council member Jim Graham plans a meeting within days of police, regulators, industry officials and parents to craft emergency legislation barring minors from clubs that serve liquor.

"There's something wrong here," Graham (D-Ward 1) said yesterday as he weighed his options as chairman of the committee overseeing liquor control. "It's pretty amazing that the only prohibition in D.C. law in terms of a minor being in an establishment where alcohol is available [deals with] a minor being in a liquor store during school hours."

Taleshia Ford, 17, was killed early Saturday morning at Smarta/Broadway, at 1919 Ninth St. NW, when another patron's gun fired during an altercation with a bouncer. Police have made no arrests in the case.

Despite catering to teenagers, the business had a license allowing it to serve alcohol to anyone 21 and older, and the dance floor was crowded with a combination of ages. The club's owner, Smart E. Aziken, did not respond to calls seeking comment yesterday.

Graham said he was greatly concerned by the dangerous potential of "mixing alcohol and adults and teens" in a nightclub, not only because of the possibility of adults buying drinks for minors but also because of the chance teenagers could be induced into risky behavior. In the absence of city law, bars and nightclubs that exclude underage patrons do so at their discretion.

"This has got to stop," Graham said, adding that he hopes to have a bill ready for the council's Feb. 6 session. Through a spokesman, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said he would support strengthened legislation to protect youths from such situations.

Smarta/Broadway, also known as Club 1919, was temporarily shut down by police after the shooting. Its black wrought-iron doors were secured yesterday by a thick rusted chain held together by two locks. Taped outside were three "Notice of Closure" signs.

"The Chief of Police finds that continued operation of this establishment would present an imminent danger to the health, safety and welfare of the public," the signs read. Police have the authority to keep the business closed for 96 hours.

The club, near the U Street corridor, opened in September 2004. According to Jeff Coudriet, director of operations for the city's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, its application specified it would have seating for 50.

During its first year, the club was cited for selling and serving alcohol after hours, and Aziken, 44, was given a $2,000 fine and a five-day suspension. The city cited the club for additional violations last May, including a noise complaint and an allegation that patrons were allowed to leave with liquor in hand. Aziken was due to appear Wednesday for a hearing on those matters.

"In layman's terms, he's sort of racking things up here," Coudriet said.

Because of this weekend's violence, Aziken is expected tomorrow at a "summary suspension hearing" by the agency's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which can indefinitely withhold the club's license or revoke it. "It's firmly in our hands at that point," Coudriet said.

Meanwhile, Ford's family continued making funeral arrangements, and police pursued their investigation of the shooting. The girl, a senior at Booker T. Washington Public Charter School, had persuaded her mother to let her go to the club with older relatives.

"It's rough," said an uncle, Richard Bynum. "They're taking this real hard."

Police said the gun was taken into Smarta/Broadway by a male friend of a woman ejected earlier in the evening, allegedly for smoking marijuana. A half-dozen security guards might have been on duty, but the club had no metal detector. Officers say they believe the gun discharged accidentally.

The department, which had no leads yesterday on the pair's identity, is offering up to $25,000 to anyone who provides information leading to an arrest and conviction in Ford's killing. Authorities asked people with information to call detectives at 202-727-9099.

Cmdr. Larry McCoy, who heads the 3rd Police District, said neighbors had complained to officers about noise disturbances at the club but not about more serious problems.

"It wasn't on my radar" before, McCoy said. "It is now."

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