Area police and federal agents raided three Northwest Washington buildings that they said were illegal after-hours clubs early yesterday and said they arrested three people, found drugs and handguns but reported no resistance.
Police said the sites -- a home, a dry-cleaning shop and an abandoned garagelike building -- offered gambling, drugs and prostitution and were gang hangouts. They have been the source of neighborhood complaints.
The raids were made about 2:30 a.m. by D.C. police -- some in SWAT gear, backed by armored personnel carriers -- and by agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Officers said they had obtained search warrants after informants bought drugs at all three sites.
Police said they found men and women drinking and playing cards and dice. At the dry-cleaning shop, the SWAT team found 35 people in a dank basement cluttered with laundry equipment, police said. Eight people were found at the two other sites.
In all, three people were arrested, two for possession of crack and one for possession of powdered cocaine, police said.
Officers also found nine plastic bags of cocaine at the dry-cleaning shop and two handguns inside the residence, but could not say to whom these items belonged.
The residence and shop are in the 3500 and 3900 blocks of 14th Street. The abandoned building is in the 700 block of Kennedy Street. Police said the three sites might be run or supplied by the same person.
"There's been a lot of complaints from the community about a lot of late-night activity," said Capt. Andy Solberg of the 4th Police District.
D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who represents the area, yesterday called the raids "great police work," saying his office also had received complaints about the activities. He said, however, that the raids probably would not end the problem, because club activity has become entrenched in the area. "It definitely helps," Fenty said yesterday. "But it's got to continue, because people have gotten comfortable."
Officers said the clubs typically open before midnight and become crowded after bars close at 2 a.m. They make their money by selling beer -- often at a steep markup, with prices of $2 a can -- but also offer gambling and sometimes prostitution, officers said.
Police said they have seen gang activity pick up in the area, particularly at bars and after-hours clubs.
Yesterday's operation began with an ATF briefing in the cafeteria of Archbishop Carroll High School. Participating were about 150 law enforcement officers, including Amtrak Police, officers from Montgomery County and Gaithersburg, and D.C. SWAT members, who rested their clanking body armor and other equipment on the lunch line steam tables.
An ATF agent warned during the briefing that members of the street gang MS-13, a predominantly Salvadoran group that is one of the largest Latino gangs in the area, had been known to visit the clubs and might be armed.
"A lot of these guys will come in from Virginia to buy their dope and sell firearms," said the agent, standing in front of aerial photos of the sites to be raided.
About 2:30 a.m., as officers prepared for the raid, people could be seen going through a door in the boarded-up storefront of the old Tunisia dry cleaners in the 3900 block of 14th Street near Shepherd Street. About 2:45 a.m., SWAT officers edged around the corner from Shepherd and burst into the building.
They remained inside for an hour while patrons were questioned and identified. The process took longer, one officer said, because only one SWAT member spoke Spanish.
In the end, most of the patrons were released after they were found to have no outstanding warrants and to possess nothing illegal. One or two possible gang members were inside the dry-cleaning building, police said, but most of the patrons were middle-age and had no gang ties.
One by one, patrons emerged from the club onto the icy sidewalk, many rubbing their wrists where they had been handcuffed. One man, wearing a canvas coat and an "FBI" cap like the ones sold from souvenir carts along the Mall, came out smiling and yelling.
"I'm a free man now!" he said.