Mother of slain man works to close Prince George's club CFE

George Harrison Cooper III was killed Aug. 22.
George Harrison Cooper III was killed Aug. 22.
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By Zoe Tillman
The Gazette
Thursday, September 16, 2010

After Prince George's County officials briefly closed the CFE Event Center in 2007 -- along with eight other nightclubs accused of being havens for violence -- the number of homicides annually at the Forestville club declined, from three in 2006 to an average of one a year since 2007.

But that is one too many for Tracy Cooper, whose son was killed at CFE last month. Cooper, 43, a Washington, D.C., resident, said she is on a mission to shutter the club for good.

"It's too late for my child, but it's not too late for someone else's child," Cooper said. "We've got to do something about it."

George Harrison Cooper III, 25, who also lived in the District, was fatally stabbed inside CFE around 3:30 a.m. Aug. 22, according to police. No one has been arrested in Cooper's death and police have not released details of the incident, according to Prince George's County police department spokesman Cpl. Henry Tippett.

Cooper is not the first to target CFE for closure. County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and the Prince George's County Police Department temporarily closed CFE -- which opened in 2003 and hosts regular musical performances and private events -- and eight other clubs in March 2007, citing a jump in club-associated homicides and other violent crime.

The clubs reopened soon after with pledges from owners to improve security, but violence continued to plague CFE. The venue has averaged one homicide annually since 2007, according to county police records, and police and patrons familiar with the club say fights are common.

Cooper said she is circulating a petition calling for CFE's closure and is hoping to rally Prince George's County residents to her cause. She also is considering filing a wrongful death suit in Prince George's County Circuit Court against the venue's owner.

According to the club's permit, which was issued July 15, 2003, CFE is owned by a Silver Spring-based business, The Big Apple, with Kevin Darby listed as the applicant. Darby did not return requests for comment a reporter left for him at the club or phone messages requesting comment at numbers listed for him and The Big Apple in the permit.

Cooper said she also blames her son's death and CFE's security problems on county officials and police, arguing that they should have closed the club when violence continued after 2007.

"I call all of them out," she said, referring to Johnson, other county officials and police. "I ask them, 'Why do we allow these things to happen?' "

Clubs can be temporarily closed if they pose an "imminent danger" to public safety, according to county police spokesman Maj. Andy Ellis. After Cooper's death, Ellis said CFE's owner voluntarily agreed to close the club for four days as police investigated the stabbing. The owner also agreed to take steps to improve security, such as installing better lighting and more cameras, Ellis said.

The "imminent danger" law, which officials and police cited during the 2007 closures, cannot be used to permanently close a club in most cases, Ellis said, adding that a business would be more likely to close for permit violations.

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