Pr. George's Judge Temporarily Bars County From Closing 5 Clubs
Saturday, March 31, 2007
A Prince George's County judge issued a temporary restraining order yesterday barring the county from closing five nightclubs that County Executive Jack B. Johnson shut down because he says they have become magnets for violent crime.
Prince George's Circuit Judge Thomas P. Smith said county officials had not adequately warned club owners and failed to give specific grounds for the closures.
"Each of the notices to each of the businesses in question says the same thing. It doesn't tell a business what it can do or cannot do," Smith said.
Smith said the five clubs and bars -- Tick Tock, Millenium and Cuzco in the Hyattsville area, Crossroads in Bladensburg and Le Pearl in Capitol Heights -- can remain open through the weekend. On Monday, the judge will review the club owners' request to permanently block the county's action.
Three other clubs closed by Johnson on Thursday -- CFE and Knights of Columbus in Forestville and Tradewinds in Camp Springs -- remain shut. Another establishment under his closure order, Classics III in Camp Springs, is open under a stay granted in September after the owner's challenge in federal court of new county restrictions on strip clubs.
After the hearing, Le Pearl manager Eric Pickens stood outside the courthouse holding a sign proclaiming "Le Pearl Ballroom is open!" Pickens said the club has been rented this weekend by a sorority group holding a breakfast and by several church groups. "I'm pretty ecstatic those events will go ahead," he said.
County Public Safety Director Vernon Herron said he was disappointed in the ruling, adding that county attorneys will vigorously resist attempts to bar the closings permanently.
The reprieve for the clubs ratcheted up tensions between county officials and nightclub owners. The owners, music promoters, clubgoers and go-go music fans across Prince George's expressed outrage about the closures, which they said are a misguided attempt to shift the blame for a recent surge in violence onto clubs.
During an impromptu meeting attended by more than 500 people Thursday night, dozens vowed to protest at the County Council's regular meeting Tuesday.
"The violence is not coming from the go-gos. It's coming from Jack Johnson not doing his job," said Ronald Moten, co-founder of Peaceholics, a group that works closely with club promoters and owners to solve disputes among urban youth peacefully.
Johnson (D) announced the suspension of use and occupancy permits for the nine nightclubs Thursday after a string of homicides that have fueled public alarm. Starting March 16, the county had 11 homicides in 11 days. Concerned community activists and church pastors have called for more action against the violence.
Apostle Betty Peebles, senior pastor of the Jericho City of Praise church, said more than 1,000 people attended a special service at which prayers and programs were offered to young people to help avoid dangerous situations. "Eleven people being killed in 11 days -- this is a time to pray for our young people," Peebles said.