Go-Go Club in Charles Attracts Teens Inside and Police Outside

Every Friday night, the Thai Seafood & Grill in Charles County transforms into one of hottest spots around to hear go-go music. To the county sheriff, the restaurant is also symptomatic of what he fears is a broader wave of crime heading south, mostly from Prince George's, into his county. Video by Dan Morse/the Washington Post, Editor: Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.com
By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thai Seafood & Grill, tucked into an anonymous strip mall in Charles County, offers panang curry, satay chicken and -- on weekends, after closing time -- go-go music.

The chairs are taken up, the lights are turned down and the restaurant draws hundreds of teenagers, most of them African American, all eager to hear music that has served as urban Washington's homegrown soundtrack for more than 20 years.

This, in turn, has drawn the police. Deputies for Rex W. Coffey (D), the county's sheriff, have searched cars in the parking lot with drug-sniffing dogs. Drivers say they have been pulled over for minor offenses. One parent said that, while waiting to pick up her daughter, she was ordered to move along because she was loitering.

Although Coffey's aggressive approach has drawn criticism from the local NAACP, the weekly go-go events have crystallized for many residents the long-held fear that crime from Prince George's County is spilling into Charles.

"Obviously, the word is out in Prince George's County and Washington, D.C., that it's a place to party," Coffey said of the restaurant in Waldorf, repeating his public vow to run lawbreakers out of town.

More than 50 patrons have been arrested outside the restaurant since the fall, including 24 -- all but five of them from Prince George's -- on a recent night after closing time. Most were charged with possession of marijuana. Two loaded guns were found in car trunks.

County judges have imposed an unusual condition for some people being released on bail: "Do not return to Thai Seafood."

More recently, there have been fewer incidents outside the restaurant, the Sheriff's Office and the restaurant have said.

Disagreement over the sheriff's tactics has come as Charles has developed the fastest-growing black population of any large jurisdiction in the nation except the Atlanta suburbs, according to a Washington Post analysis last year of U.S. Census data. Many of these newcomers have moved into $400,000 and $500,000 homes, increasing the county's median household income as crime rates fell.

Although almost all patrons of the go-gos are black, reactions to Coffey's crackdown do not break along racial lines. Fearing that crime could lower property values, many residents say they find the sheriff's rhetoric appealing.

"If people start saying Charles County doesn't play around, that's a good thing," said Anthony Rowland, 41, an African American who is a former D.C. police officer. He moved from Prince George's a few years ago and started a neighborhood watch in his community.

Rebecca Groseclose, part of a Caucasian group from a local church that dines regularly at Thai Seafood, said she is concerned that the sheriff is hurting the county's image. "Charles County is already called 'Chuck County' by people, as in backwoods and redneck," said Groseclose, 23. "How is saying you're going to run people out of town going to help that?"

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