D.C. police are investigating whether Celebrity Hall, a Northwest Washington go-go music club beset with controversy in recent months, tried to cover up a weekend stabbing that wounded a District teen-ager during a concert, police sources said yesterday.
Security guards employed by the hall may have failed to report the stabbing to police and then later denied that the stabbing occurred, sources said, and police are investigating the hall for possible obstruction of justice. "We're looking into numerous, serious irregularities in the way this stabbing was reported," a police investigator said yesterday. "We're deeply alarmed by what may have happened."
Andrew Richeson, who owns the hall, angrily disputed police claims yesterday. He said the hall's manager called three times for an ambulance immediately after the stabbing was discovered, and argued that 4th District police are "doing all they can do to cause me problems."
Last month, 17-year-old Wendell Heard was fatally stabbed outside the hall, located at 3401 Georgia Ave. NW, as he left a concert. The stabbing, the latest in a series of shootings and stabbings outside District go-go music clubs this year, prompted outraged neighbors to demand that the city close Celebrity Hall.
A D.C. Council committee unanimously approved a bill yesterday to bar anyone under age 18 from go-go and other public dance halls after 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and after 1 a.m. weekends. The halls usually close about 3 a.m. on weekends.
Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1) said that in response to the weekend stabbing, he will seek to have the bill passed as emergency legislation by the full council in early December. Smith, whose ward includes Celebrity Hall, said he hopes the measure takes effect before Christmas "to prevent more carnage."
The bill, which Smith sponsored after recurring violence outside go-go music halls this spring, will go today before the council's committee of the whole. A majority of the council has said it supports the measure.
In 1986, the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs revoked Celebrity Hall's business license, contending that its concert noise and crowds were a public nuisance. Hall owners got their license reinstated after appealing to the city's Board of Appeals and Review. Richeson said police have been unfairly trying to have the club closed since that ruling.
Consumer affairs officials could not be reached to discuss the status of Celebrity Hall's license.
The stabbing in the hall occurred shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday, D.C. police said. Otis Nelson, 15, of the 1300 block of Park Road NW, was listed in good condition yesterday at Children's Hospital, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Nelson, stabbed once in the back with an unknown weapon, had been listed in serious condition Sunday.
Police said they have no suspects in the stabbing, which they said resulted from a fight between Nelson and another teen-ager as a go-go concert ended inside the hall. The fight began, police said, after Nelson was pushed from behind by an unidentified male and his hat was knocked to the ground. The two teen-agers then argued, and Nelson was stabbed.
Nelson was brought by ambulance to the hospital shortly after 3:30 a.m., at least a half hour after he was stabbed. Police sources said 4th District officers, after receiving three anonymous calls about a stabbing in an alley behind the hall that proved false, asked a guard at the hall's entrance if anyone had been stabbed, shot or injured inside the hall.
The guard said there had not been a stabbing, but police looked over his shoulder as he began to shut the door and noticed a wounded teen-ager sitting in a chair near the door, sources said. They said the officers pushed past the guard and went in to investigate.
Richeson said his security guards had called the 911 emergency number three times but never said the stabbing occurred behind the hall. He said 911 dispatchers were asked to send an ambulance behind the hall to avoid the departing crowds on Georgia Avenue.
Richeson also denied that his guard had said there was no stabbing and said police did not come into the hall until after an ambulance arrived.
A police spokesman said the go-go hall employs special police officers who are licensed by the city. Those licenses can be revoked if an officer violates the law or police administrative procedures.
Richeson said 11 officers from Metropolitan Detective Bureau, a private security firm he operates, were on duty in the hall for Saturday's late-night go-go concert. Security officers frisk everyone who attends a concert, he said.
As the crowd left the concert, Richeson said, he learned that a teen-ager had been stabbed and taken to the club's bathroom by his friends. He said that he and hall security officers administered first aid in the bathroom and then called for an ambulance. Nelson, he said, waited in a chair near a side door after the ambulance was first called.
Nelson, a student at Lincoln Junior High School in Northwest, said from his hospital bed yesterday that friends carried him to the bathroom, but he said he could not remember if guards also had helped.
"I went over to my friend and said, 'I think I'm stabbed,' " Nelson said. "So they carried me to the bathroom and tried to clean me up for a while. I think a guard called an ambulance, because I was sitting out in a chair waiting for it to come."
Richeson said Nelson's wound did not appear serious, and may have been inflicted with a pen or pencil. A hospital spokeswoman said she did not know what caused Nelson's wound, but said he was "very lucky" to be listed in good condition.
The ambulance did not come after the first three calls, a 4th District officer said, because police could find no evidence of a stabbing or any other crime outside the hall.
The fourth 911 call, which police sources said was later traced and found to have been made from the club, came from an unidentified woman who reported that a teen-ager had been stabbed in the club. Richeson said that caller was Marie Whitfield, a neighbor who helps chaperone the concerts. Whitfield said yesterday that she had made the call.
"What the police are saying is absurd," Richeson said. "We did everything we could. They're trying to cover themselves."
Council member Smith, who has called Celebrity Hall a "magnet for trouble," said yesterday that he was disappointed that parents still allow their children to attend the concerts.
"There is a known danger there," he said. "I don't know how much suffering we have to have before we get this place closed down." Staff writer Lawrence Feinberg contributed to this report.