Club 410 fights police bid to shut it down

Conflicting testimony on violence presented at hearing on department effort to padlock troublesome businesses

March 27, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,

The owners and operators of Club 410 in Northeast Baltimore urged police Thursday not to shut down their Northeast Baltimore club, saying that they have strict security procedures and that violence outside or sometimes blocks away was out of their control.

The club, in the 4500 block of Belair Road, was the subject of the most recent "padlock hearing" by the Baltimore Police Department, which has been seeking to crack down on establishments it believes harbor crime and violence.

Manager Tomeka Harris, a law student who represented the club at a hearing at police headquarters, said that of five incidents cited by police, only one took place inside the club, and it was handled by security.

One of the incidents - in which police found a gun in a nearby car - should serve as proof that patrons are deterred from bringing in weapons, she said.

"The police are targeting our club because they have been unable to keep people safe outside," Harris said. "Our patrons know we keep them protected inside, but the same can't be said about what goes on outside."

But police maintain that the club serves as a catalyst for violence, with numerous officers testifying that Club 410 is a known hot spot that requires extra resources. Though Harris and police agreed that violence has been muted in recent months, Northeast District Maj. Delmar Dickson credited heavier presence by officers.

"I have no doubts, if I pull my officers away, we'll be in the same situation," Dickson said.

Club 410 is the latest city business that police have pushed to padlock; others include a liquor store on North Avenue and an East Baltimore motel. Police presented evidence and testimony about five incidents dating to August 2008, including three nonfatal shootings.

The owners of the liquor license - Andrea Huff, who works in the city's 311 call center, and Scott Brooks, a city schools employee - were largely silent during the hearing.

Harris sought to poke holes in police claims. She said the club was closed on a day when police say a shooting occurred. As for a double shooting Dec. 26, she called a witness who said the main victim was leaving a different club. And she questioned the police account of a Dec. 6 incident, in which a man arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital saying he had been shot at Club 410. "Victims don't give police [true] information because they plan on retaliating," she said.

Harris said the club uses metal detectors, asks patrons to remove their shoes for inspection and guards all exits. "But I can't control what happens two, three blocks away," security head Thomas Ringgold said.

Police cited a man's claim that the club's bouncers had hit him in the head with bottles, but Harris called as a witness the detective assigned to the case, who said he believes the man was thrown to the ground in an area of broken glass. Harris said the club switched to plastic cups after the incident.

Asked about the club since Dec. 26, Dickson's deputy major Darryl DeSousa said: "Her security, in my opinion, has improved."

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