TMCNet:  Nightclub can still serve alcohol: Judge: City failed to prove link between Cotton Club, violence

[February 02, 2008]

Nightclub can still serve alcohol: Judge: City failed to prove link between Cotton Club, violence

(Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Feb. 2--A Richmond circuit judge refused last night to halt alcohol sales at a downtown nightclub linked to a series of shootings and other violence.

Using a state law that took effect last year, the city requested a temporary injunction to prohibit alcohol sales at the Cotton Club, which operates as part of Manhattans Restaurant at 112 N. Fifth St.

An injunction would have forced an investigation and hearing before the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on whether to revoke the club's license.

But after a four-hour emergency hearing, Judge Melvin R. Hughes Jr. agreed with Brent A. Jackson, an attorney for the club, that the city failed to prove a sufficient link between the violence and business.

Nightclub operator Nathaniel Dance III told reporters last night that he's committed to working with police to make safety improvements.

According to police, seven people have been shot, stabbed or beaten in or near the club during the past eight months.

None of the injuries was fatal, but a victim from a shooting early Sunday remains hospitalized, according to police.

City police said they weren't trying to shut down the 5-year-old business, only to get Dance to make safety improvements.

"It is not the department's intent to stifle nightlife in the downtown area," the department said in a statement last night. "The department believes that a healthy -- and safe -- entertainment district is a strong component of public safety and downtown revitalization."


Hughes determined that testimony provided by several police officers linked only one incident to the club.

In testimony, Sgt. Michael Talley described working as an off-duty officer outside Manhattans in October, when he responded to a man who had suffered a deep cut to his neck from a bottle. A trail of blood led from the sidewalk to an upstairs dance floor, Talley said.

Jackson, Dance's attorney, said Dance cooperated with police after that incident and has been operating with safety in mind, hiring off-duty police as well as private security, banning disruptive patrons from the premises and checking guests for drugs and weapons.

Fourth Precinct Commander John Hall said last night that he was disappointed with the judge's decision. "We want improvements. If [Dance] meets us, improvements can occur."

Hall, who oversees policing in the downtown area, testified that because of the violence at or near the Cotton Club he is revamping officer schedules to provide additional support on weekend nights.

Dance said that the Cotton Club would be closed for the time being but that the downstairs restaurant and lounge would remain open. Asked whether he believes the perpetrators of the recent violence were his customers, Dance said he does not know.

"I'm a victim, too," he said. "I'm here defending [myself against] someone else's actions."

Dance said he's concerned about the violence, and he praised city police officers. He said he hopes to meet with them next week to discuss ways to improve safety, perhaps by adding more outside lighting and security personnel.

"My client does not want to have a nightclub that the public will be fearful in attending," Jackson said.

The case attracted the attention of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, as well as a few residents and business owners.

Terry O'Neill, owner of nearby Penny Lane Pub, said "Fridays and Saturdays are a nightmare" because of the crowds drawn to Manhattans. O'Neill said he has no doubt there is a connection between the violence and the club.

"All you have to do is close it down for 12 months and see if seven people get hurt," he said.

Contact Will Jones at (804) 649-6911 or wjones@timesdispatch.com.

To see more of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.timesdispatch.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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