For more than 20 years, Marc Barnes’s upscale D.C. nightclubs have been the center of party life in the Washington region, where such celebrities as Beyoncé and Chris Brown stop by to perform and politicians including Bill Clinton make cameos.
Barnes, 51, prides himself on knowing how to run a popular nightclub, catering to 20- and 30-somethings looking for the latest “it” spot. His portfolio includes past popular clubs, such as Republic Gardens and Love, and his current venue, the Park at Fourteenth, in downtown Washington.
But on Oct. 31, he was arrested and spent more than 11 hours in a D.C. cellblock, charged with misdemeanor second-degree theft and destruction of property for something he said he does regularly: confiscating fake identifications or any identification misused by underage patrons to enter his club.
According to D.C. Superior Court documents, just after midnight on Aug. 10, Barnes and his security staff got into a confrontation with a Germantown woman over her identification. The woman, originally from Liberia, said that Barnes and his staff confiscated her Liberian driver’s license and residence permit, saying they were fake. Days later, according to the court documents, when the woman returned to the club to retrieve the documents, an employee told her that they had been shredded.
But Barnes, who pays his employees $10 for every fake identification they retrieve, said that the woman gave her identification that evening to an underage friend who had accompanied her to the club and that the pieces of identification were confiscated from the friend because they were being misused.
“I was locked up because she committed a crime,” Barnes says. “This is stupid.”
Barnes has become vigilant about cracking down on underage drinkers. In 2002, he was fined $2,000 by the city and later sued by the family of a U.S. Park Police officer who was killed when a 20-year-old woman got into her car and hit him after having several drinks at Dream in Northeast Washington.
D.C. police declined to comment on Barnes’s most recent case. Jessie Cornelius, a spokeswoman for the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), said licensees should contact D.C. police when dealing with suspected fake or fraudulent identification.
Barnes said that ABRA officials never told that to him and that contacting police every time a D.C. club owner or manager identifies an underage person trying to get into a club with phony identification isn’t practical.
“ABRA has never told me not to confiscate them. I’m trying to protect the city,” he said. “I’m trying to make sure that no one is in a club that shouldn’t be in a club. And for this, I’m arrested?”
Barnes’s security staff took video that showed one of the two women cursing at Barnes and a police officer after Barnes ordered her to leave his club.
The officer told the woman that if she did not leave, she would be charged with unlawful entry.
Since his arrest, Barnes has been required to check in with court pretrial officers each week to ensure that he is complying with conditions of his release. “They’re treating me like I’m a common criminal,” he said.
Barnes’s next court date is Nov. 24, two days after he will celebrate the seventh anniversary of his club.
“She said, ‘I’m going to make you sorry for this,’ ” he recalled, “and I guess she did.”