Mayor blames weekend melee on poor security But promoter of event at Brokerage says police overreacted

Future parties unlikely

June 16, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Jamie Stiehm and Gerard Shields contributed to this article.

A weekend party at the downtown Brokerage that unexpectedly drew 3,000 people and ended with a disturbance that took police from across the city to quell was poorly run and lacked adequate security, the mayor said yesterday.

"I really hold the promoter responsible for what occurred," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said in an interview with The Sun. "If the event itself had been better managed, we would not have had the problems that were reported."

While the promoter, Phillip Crump of Two Fierce Productions, disputed Schmoke's assertions and said police overreacted, Schmoke said similar late-night events will most likely be banned from the city-owned Brokerage building that is run by Otis Warren & Co., a private managing firm.

The liquor board indicated that alcohol sales at the Market Place building are in jeopardy. "It's going to be very difficult for us to extend a one-day license for that facility again," said Nathan C. Irby Jr., the liquor board's executive secretary.

While Schmoke defended police, Crump said police overreacted against an African-American crowd and blamed the unrest on people who had been denied admittance to the capacity-filled banquet hall. A reported gunshot, which police said ignited a "near riot" and led them to close the party about 1 a.m. Sunday, could have been an innocuous sound, Crump said.

"There is a tendency for the Police Department to become afraid or nervous when they see a large number of black professionals in one area," the 27-year-old promoter said. "The problem that Baltimore City has is there is no place for young black professionals to go to on a regular basis."

Schmoke noted the lack of nighttime entertainment, but said that is no excuse for what happened during the weekend. "I don't think that blaming Baltimore's lack of entertainment sites is anything more than [the promoter] trying to avoid responsibility," he said. "If there is a market there for those type of venues, I would assume the private sector would step in to fill that void."

Crump said he is worried that the incident would lead to tighter restrictions on nightclubs and further hamper efforts to offer entertainment to young black residents whom he said feel unwelcome at the Inner Harbor and Fells Point tourist attractions.

A city law goes into effect Oct. 1 that bans the consumption and sale of alcohol after the 2 a.m. bar-closing time. But at the same time, legislation that would allow bars to stay open until 4 a.m. should be drafted by the end of the year, said Councilwoman Stephanie C. Rawlings, chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee overseeing revamping city night life rules.

"The demand wouldn't be so high if there was more supply," Rawlings said yesterday. She called Sunday's incident "unfortunate," but said it shows that the steps being taken to enhance city night life are worthwhile.

Crump's event was dubbed "Millennium 98" and was billed as "the East Coast's Most Glamorous Adult Night Out." Tickets, which cost between $15 and $25, touted appearances by Maryland boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard and members of the Baltimore Ravens.

Partygoers, who had worn gowns or tuxedos, said they dined on shrimp, spicy chicken and pasta and danced to a live jazz band.

Crump said his security officers stopped selling tickets at the door at 11 p.m. Hundreds of people became angry when they were kept out.

Police said a crush of partygoers collected at the door and security guards -- most of them off-duty police officers -- tried to maintain order. At least one person was sprayed with Mace, but city police said it was not by one of their officers.

Crump said he had hired 42 private security guards. But city officials said only seven were off-duty city officers and seven were from the Maryland State Police.

About 1 a.m., a gunshot was reported outside, which police said triggered a "stampede" of people on the plaza, two blocks from Police Headquarters. Officers repeatedly hit their "Signal 13" button for help, and more than 60 officers sped to the plaza.

Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, said several fights broke out and officers observed numerous infractions, but decided against arresting anyone for fear of sparking more unrest.

Police could not confirm yesterday whether a gun had been fired. No weapon or shell casing was recovered, though witnesses and police said people did run after hearing a loud bang. Crump provided The Sun with a seven-minute videotape that shows a small portion of the incident. It depicts a large, well-dressed crowd and dozens of police officers holding batons and milling about in the plaza.

Many people were packed at the door as security guards tried to sort out who had tickets. At one point, Police Sgt. Craig Gentile, wearing a yellow slicker, shouted through a bullhorn: "This function is closed. Return to your cars and go home."

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