Killings spur club review of dress, admissions rules

Young clients blamed by some for violence

April 01, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

The Five Mile House has had a long run as a socializing spot for blacks in Baltimore, drawing the likes of former mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.

But the Park Heights nightclub, recognized for good music, relaxation and soul food for more than 25 years, is again facing questions about its security after, the killing there Sunday of a 33-year-old mother of three.

Police say the nightclub, across the street from a police substation, is not the subject of frequent calls, but community leaders concerned about the business' image have called for a return to a stricter admissions policy. New management, agreeing the Five Mile House is a landmark the black community cherishes, plans to comply.

"I think the concern that we have is that for so many, many years, the Five Mile House was an elitist spot in the city of Baltimore," said Jean Yarborough, president of Northwest Baltimore Corporation and the Park Heights Networking Community Council.

"It was a place where a woman could go, sit down and have a cocktail and not be afraid of the environment. You met good friends and old friends there, and the place was an immaculate, well-run business."

Owned for years by Westley Johnson, the club was the place to go for a mature crowd, especially as places such as the now-defunct Odell's opened farther into the city and attracted a younger, often more violent clientele.

In recent years, the nightclub has come under new ownership and has seen violence creep closer to its door. In May 1998, Jacqueline Washington, 23, was killed outside the club when her estranged boyfriend shot her once in the head, then killed himself. Two others were wounded in that attack, police said.

Sunday, Robin Renae Jackson was in a car with Roland Cox when the vehicle was fired upon by a man outside the club. She was killed. Police said the shooting followed a dispute inside the nightclub in which Cox was a peacemaker. Cox was wounded and transported to Sinai Hospital, but officials there yesterday could not confirm whether he is still a patient, referring to the shooting and his family's concerns.

Sean Yoes, a Five Mile House manager and spokesman, defended the Northwest Baltimore establishment, saying the killing of Jackson was a tragic but isolated incident.

Yoes said the club is in a "rough" neighborhood but also said that doesn't mean it shouldn't operate there. He said that he understands some patrons' apprehensiveness about going there but that owners who took over last year will do everything to make it safe.

"The Five Mile House was notoriously a place where younger people could not get into. It was `25 and older,' and the dress code was `too tight.' Over the years, some of the guidelines have been relaxed somewhat, and some of that has changed. Part of the ownership'svision when it came on board was to bring back some of that exclusivity."

Maj. John McEntee, commander of the Northwestern District, said police don't respond to many calls at Five Mile House.

"It's not our biggest concern, in terms of nightclubs," McEntee said. "When you look at the calls for service in the past, they're not for controlled dangerous substance or loud and disorderly. My information is the majority of calls in that immediate block are for alarms. Nobody has said to me `look we've got to do something about this place.'"

Still, Jackson's homicide has been a topic of conversation in the community this week, especially among Five Mile House guests.

Jackson's killing was especially tragic, friends and family say, because she had nothing to do with the altercation inside the club that police say led to her 2: 20 a.m. shooting.

Helen Davis, a close family friend, said Jackson had debated going to the club Saturday night because she had been out shopping all day with friends. Jackson and Cox were only acquaintances, Davis said.

"She was just up there that night," Davis said. "Usually she's at work or at home asleep, but she was up there with some friends."

The community has showered Jackson's family with cards, flowers, food and money. "This happened Saturday night, and I know there were about 100 people here on Sunday," Davis said.

Last night, the band Fertile Ground performed two sets at Five Mile House. Yoes said owners are donating part of the concert proceeds to Jackson's family.

"Black businesses have been run out of our community for decades, but we're determined to stay," Yoes said. "We're not going to let this tragic event stop us. We will do whatever it takes to make sure our patrons are safe. They need to feel like, when they come through the door, they don't have to worry about anything."

Contributions can be sent to the Robin R. Jackson Memorial Fund, Allfirst Bank, 25th St. and Kirk Ave., Baltimore, Md. 21218.

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