Police curb party crowd Emergency call draws 60 officers to melee over 'Night Out' access

'Safety in jeopardy'

Estimated 3,000 at Brokerage 'stampede' at sound of gunshot

June 15, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF Assistant city editor David Michael Ettlin contributed to this article.

More than 60 police officers were called to restore order early yesterday at the downtown Brokerage after a crowd of thousands gathered for an entertainment event became unruly.

Officers wielding bullhorns and batons were called from across the city when the crowd stampeded after a gunshot about 1 a.m., police said.

"We used everything and every available person we had to move them," said Central District Lt. John Bailey. "Public safety was in jeopardy."

Sgt. K. J. Ellinger described the scene as a "near-riot situation."

Police and the manager of a nearby business said it was the third straight Saturday night that a disturbance had occurred outside the city-owned Brokerage.

"This was the worst of the three," said Scott J. St. Blanc of nearby Ruth's Chris Steak House. "It's unsafe for customers and employees. We can't operate a business with this kind of mayhem."

A manager at Bennigan's restaurant next door to the Brokerage said the trouble also affected its business: "It got so bad that we had to lock our doors."

The event, "Millennium 98," was billed as "the East Coast's Most Glamorous Adult Night Out." Tickets touted appearances by Maryland boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard and members of the Baltimore Ravens, although one of the promoters, Philip Crump of Baltimore-based Two Fierce Productions, would not confirm the athletes' attendance.

The Brokerage, at 34 Market Place, less than a block from city Police Headquarters and the Central District station, is rented out for such functions.

Crump said that some security guards were off-duty law enforcement officers and that "the event was great inside" the Brokerage.

"The only issue we were aware of is crowd control," Crump said

"The police when they come, they come in great numbers.

There's always a tendency to get alarmed when there's a large number of African-Americans. But young African-American professionals have very few options" for socializing, said Crump, 27.

Tickets were sold in advance at $20 and were to be available at the door for $30. City records show that Crump stated that about 1,100 people were expected at the event, which featured disc jockeys, food and liquor.

Police estimated that more than 3,000 partygoers showed up, leading to a melee at the door among those who had tickets and those trying to buy them.

According to accounts of witnesses, security guards, police officers and would-be partygoers, the crowd pushed toward the doors as security officers tried to maintain control.

Then a Mace-like chemical was sprayed by someone -- police said it came from the security guards -- to force the crowd back from the door. Police on duty in the area heard what they said was a gunshot in the plaza outside the Brokerage, and the crowd began to run.

Emergency request

Sgt. Craig Gentile, a Central District vice officer on duty, put in an emergency request for help -- the same type of request made when an officer is in trouble or a situation is getting out of control. Usually, such calls, known as a Signal 13, are called off within minutes after they are made.

But the Signal 13 early yesterday remained open for nearly a half-hour, bringing help from the other eight city police districts.

"I put it out over the air," Gentile said. "It was a shot. People were running, diving for cover."

Other officers likened it to "a stampede," describing several hundred people running toward nearby Lombard Street.

No arrests were made because police said they feared they would be inflammatory.

The Central District midnight shift commander, Lt. Ken Finkenbinder, said arrests were avoided to keep peace. "A lot of people who could or should have been locked up weren't arrested," he said. "We just wanted them to disperse and leave."

Affected by spray

More than a dozen people were affected by the chemical spray -- some heading to a nearby restaurant to wash their eyes, others )) getting treatment at the scene from city paramedics.

One man suffered a severe facial cut and was treated by an ambulance crew, police said. The glass door entrance to the Brokerage was damaged, police said.

One 26-year-old Baltimore man left angrily. "People spent a lot of money on clothes and then don't get in because they were disorganized," said Derek Parker, a warehouse worker.

Crump said compensation would be made to those who bought tickets but did not get in. Some said they had traveled from Philadelphia and Virginia to attend.

Pub Date: 6/15/98

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