Two hurt in shooting near Inner Harbor after fight at troubled nightclub

Velvet Rope club downtown was site of near riot last week

March 04, 2010|By Peter Hermann | Baltimore Sun reporter

Two young men who had been involved in a fight inside a downtown Baltimore nightclub where a near riot occurred last week were shot and wounded early Thursday near the Inner Harbor, according to police who repeated calls for the club to be shut down.

City police, who said the shootings were captured on a Citiwatch surveillance camera, arrested one man and seized a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun from a van stopped shortly after the attack. Both men suffered non-life threatening injuries and were being treated at area hospitals.

Owners of the nightclub, the Velvet Rope, located in the historic Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Co. building on Redwood Street, already face a liquor board hearing scheduled for later this month. That deals with complaints by police who said officers quelled a disturbance there on Feb. 25 when angry patrons stormed the front doors after a hip hop concert was oversold.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III held a news conference after that incident and called for the immediate closing of the club that can hold more than 900 people and attracts well-known performers from throughout the country. The club can't be shut until a liquor board hearing is held. Thursday's shooting prompted this response from the department:

"What more has to happen at this location for this business to realize they pose a grave risk for the people in Baltimore?" said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. "The first time we had a mini riot. That was a week ago. Now we have people shot."

Police said the fight inside the club began shortly before 1 a.m. and that the patrons were thrown out and police, who were out in force in the area because of the earlier disturbance, tried to confront the participants as they walked away. Guglielmi said officers were only able to question a handful while the rest walked toward Lombard Street, with the victims of the fight hunting down their attackers.

Guglielmi said that near Light and Lombard streets, 2 1/2 blocks from the club, one man ducked into an alley, retrieved a handgun and shot at members of the other group. It was not immediately clear whether the shooter was the victim or the instigator of the fight inside the club.

Police said a 21-year-old man was hit in the leg and was treated at a city hospital. Friends took another victim to Northwestern Hospital in Baltimore County, where city police questioned him early Thursday.

Shortly after the shooting, Guglielmi said officers stopped a van and arrested Matthew Craighead, 26, of the 3700 block of Oakmont Ave. and charged him with two counts of attempted murder. The spokesman said officers found a .45 caliber handgun in the van.

The managing partner of the Velvet Rope, Tracye Stafford, referred questions to her attorney, Paul W. Gardner, famous for representing the alleged White House gate-crashers from Virginia, Michaele and Tareq Salahi.

Gardner said that only between 200 and 300 people were inside the Velvet Rope when two men started pushing and shoving each other. He said the security guard quickly broke up the fracas before any punches were thrown and ejected one patron through a door leading to Calvert Street and the other, 20 minutes later, through a door onto Redwood Street.

He said guards escorted both men to a street 1,000 feet from the club, where their jurisdiction ends. He said there were dozens of city police officers in the area "trying to make sure everyone was safe, and we appreciate that." The attorney said officers pushed the ejected patrons even further away.

"At that point they're out of sight and we're not responsible for anyone's actions," Gardner said. "There is no way this club is in any way responsible. The shooting didn't happen inside the club. It didn't happen right outside the club. Security did everything they were supposed to do."

Gardner, as other attorneys representing nightclubs and bars have long complained, said it is unfair that their establishments get blamed for violence that occurs away from their front doors. Police counter that the fights typically start inside the club and end up outside on the streets, endangering the public, and that bar owners must share in the responsibility.

Gardner said club owners were meeting Thursday morning and that "there's going to be a drastic change" in security, possibly even a new company, to keep better order. "They might replace the entire company or key members of the team," the attorney said.

He cautioned that he has not yet confirmed that the people involved in the shooting were the same ones fighting in the club. But, Gardner added, "We're concerned about any violence, of course. We're very concerned that this incident happened." He said the club employs more security guards than any other downtown Baltimore nightspot.

Stephan Fogleman, the liquor board chairman, said the upcoming liquor board hearing deals with the incident Feb. 25 but could also incorporate new charges stemming from the more recent shooting. He said the hearing was delayed two weeks after inspectors filed additional charges against the club, including alleging employees refused to cooperate with police.

In that incident, police said ticket-holders angry at being locked out for an oversold show featuring the Southern rapper Yo Gotti stormed the doors and threw chairs and street signs. Police said Velvet Rope security responded by "indiscriminately spraying mace" into the crowd, and that it took more than 50 police officers to restore order.

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