Peter Hermann's "Crime Scenes" is a reported feature that provides context about many of the incidents that take place on the streets of Baltimore and beyond.
Trouble for Cheerleader's in Fells Point began back in March 2008 when a female college student was beaten inside the bar and her friends complained that the bouncers did nothing to help.
Then, in April of this year, angry patrons spilled out of the Broadway club and, on Lancaster Street, one fired up to 10 shots from a handgun. One bullet narrowly missed a man who fell and hit his head on the sidewalk, and another shot went through a door and into an inside wall of a rowhouse, angering homeowners on the historic street.
A week later, two women told police they were attacked inside the bar by a patron who punched and kicked them and threw bottles at their heads. The city's liquor board said it has fined the owners three times for serving alcohol to underage police cadets posing as customers, once, according to a police report, handing a cadet a $3 Coors Light after he gave a bartender a driver's license showing he was under 21.
So homeowners and owners of other bars and restaurants in the touristy neighborhood were ecstatic Wednesday morning when at least a dozen police officers raided Cheerleader's, hoping the troublesome spot at South Broadway and Aliceanna Street had been shut for good. Even in an area that attracts young college students who like to booze it up, this bar, as the owner of a watering hole next door put it, was "a nightmare."
Much of what police did and why they did it remains a mystery, shrouded under the cloak of an "ongoing investigation." Baltimore County police confirmed that they carried out the raid, which amounted to serving a search warrant, with the help of a federal law enforcement agency that the county police spokesman, Cpl. Mike Hill, refused to identify.
"We are not able to comment on the nature of the investigation," Hill said. "No arrests were made. Some items were seized." He would only say that the probe originated in Baltimore County and that "information came up during the course of the investigation that brought us to that bar."
Residents and bar owners insisted they saw federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents on the raid, but a spokeswoman for the Baltimore field office said they weren't at the scene. Baltimore City police said that not only were they not on the raid, but that no one in their agency had even known it took place.
The owner, Vicente Paviera Javellana Jr., lists an address with the liquor board on West Street in Federal Hill. A number he gave the board has been disconnected, as has the phone number to the bar, which was locked tight Wednesday afternoon.
Hill said police did not seize the liquor license, nor did they shut it down. Javellana's attorney, Gary Maslan, was not available to comment, according to his office.
Wednesday's raid and what, if anything, comes of it could complicate efforts by the Fells Point Community Association to mediate an end to its dispute with the owner. After the shooting on Lancaster Street, the group filed a formal petition with the liquor board asking that Cheerleader's liquor license not be renewed.
The association president, Joanne Masopust, said the group is working with the community law center and hopes to meet with the bar owner to resolve the problems before proceeding more formally.
The liquor board had not been informed of the operation as of Wednesday, but the chairman, Stephan Fogleman, said he has postponed three scheduled hearings to await the outcome of the meeting between the owner and residents. He said the bar has had three violations for serving underage patrons since January 2008 and has been fined a total of $5,000.
"That does not bode well," he said.
Now, the bar is the subject of a police probe that could involve the feds.
The irony is that it might delay efforts by the community and the liquor board to resolve their issues. Whether Cheerleader's remains open under these circumstances is another question entirely.