Escalating violence and criminal acts at a Rockingham nightclub have led state officials to suspend the club’s permits to sell alcohol, according to the North Carolina ABC Commission.
Sworn statements of law enforcement officers describing numerous fights with crowds as large as 450 people and an April 27 incident with shots fired and serious cutting injuries at the club known as Suede have prompted the ABC Commission to suspend the alcohol permits held by the business.
The club, located at 303 E. Washington St., in downtown Rockingham, has held permits to sell beer, wine and mixed beverages since 2011.
The suspension was handed down on Friday, May 3, and detailed in a news release on Saturday by the ABC Commission.
The suspension, which prohibits the business from selling alcohol, is in effect immediately, according to Agnes Stevens, Public Affairs Director for the commission.
Affidavits of law enforcement officials detailed several incidents of violence, which included an assault on a law officer and numerous calls for service to the location including assistance rendered by Hamlet Police Department and the N.C. State Highway Patrol, according to the Commission.
A phone call made to the club on Saturday seeking comment on this story went to an outgoing voicemail message about entertainment lined up for Nov. 23-24. Calls made to the club’s listed telephone number on Monday went unanswered. An email sent to the club via the club’s official website, seeking comment for the story, has also gone unanswered.
Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly and Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. prepared letters urging that the ABC Commission take action to stop the sale of alcohol at Suede, the Commission said.
In a letter dated May 3, 2013, Chief Kelly asks the Commission to immediately revoke the ABC permits held by Suede.
Kelly mentions “many recent violent episodes that have occurred on or about the property,” and said he is extremely concerned for the safety of the patrons who frequent Suede and for his police officers who must respond to calls for service.
“The criminal activity at the club seems to be escalating as I have noticed (an) increase in the violent crimes,” Kelly wrote to the Commission.
Kelly cites two recent incidents:
• On April 27, 2013, Rockingham police officers responded to a shots fired call at Suede, where approximately 450 people were assembled. The Rockingham officers had to have help from all officers and deputies in the county as well as from the State Highway Patrol from surrounding counties, Kelly said. “There were shots fired, multiple fights, a subject cut, and damaged property,” the chief wrote.
• On March 30, 2013, Rockingham police officers responded to a disturbance call at Suede. “There were multiple altercations in the parking lot and a female was struck in the face by a male who fled on foot and was apprehended after a struggle along with two other males who were involved in the altercation as well,” Kelly wrote.
“These are just the most recent incidents that have taken place in the past weeks; however, Club Suede has been a problem establishment for the City of Rockingham for some time,” the chief wrote.
“The excessive number of calls for police service is an enormous drain of manpower, especially for night shift officer(s). The club brings in people from all neighborhoods, good and bad alike, which are a draw for the criminal element. This contributes to the number of violent crimes at this business and the surrounding areas,” Kelly wrote.
In his letter to state officials, Sheriff Clemmons talked about the problems Suede poses to pubic safety.
So far, in 2013, there have been at least 26 calls for service which has required the assistance at times of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Rockingham Police Department, Hamlet Police Department, and the State Highway Patrol, Clemmons wrote.
On at least two occasions these incidents involved guns, the sheriff said.
Clemmons said he himself shut the club down on Jan. 1, due to a disturbance that was created that involved a firearm on an individual from Anson County, the sheriff’s letter states.
” … I along with Chief Kelly request to close this establishment as it has posed a threat to the public safety and the welfare of our community. It is only a matter of time before one of our officers gets hurt or killed and the same threat exists for some innocent bystander from our community,” Clemmons wrote.
Other law enforcement officers made similar sworn statements to the ABC Commission, and mentioned the potential for the club becoming the scene of a homicide if nothing is done.
In an affidavit dated May 2, Senior Patrol Officer Donald Morton, of the Rockingham Police Department, describes the chaotic scene officers found at Suede on April 27.
“The first deputy on scene said that shots were still being fired when he arrived and asked for help immediately and that the shooters were still in the parking lot. When I arrived there were large groups of people running in terror and screaming. Someone told us what car the shooters were in and we approached it with our weapons drawn. We got them out of the car and two other fights broke out near us. Once deputies had broken up those fights, we found a handgun under the seat in the car that the suspects were in … ,” Morton said.
Due to more fights breaking out, the officers on scene requested additional backup from Hamlet Police and the State Highway Patrol, Morton said.
At one point, a subject in a red Dodge Charger backed into the Food King store and nearly ran over a sheriff’s deputy who was trying to stop him, Morton said.
” … There were a lot of different gang names being yelled with threats that ‘this (isn’t) over’. About 200 people started circling us and the deputies had to get out their shotguns to force them back,” according to Morton in his affidavit.
The ABC Commission reviewed the letters and the sworn statements of the law enforcement officers and on Friday issued the summary suspension, which is immediate and is in effect until the case is heard by the Office of Administrative Hearings.
The action is authorized under N.C. General Statute 150B-3(c), which directs the ABC Commission to begin hearing proceedings on the matter.
In April 2010, the state ABC Commission announced Last Call — a cooperative initiative with local law enforcement and ALE that streamlines the process for suspending alcohol permits of violent bars and clubs. This week’s action is the 17th summary suspension of permanent ABC permits by the state ABC Commission since Last Call was introduced. It is the first summary suspension of 2013.
North Carolina is one of 17 states to regulate alcohol through a control system. Since 1937, the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission has provided regulation and control over the sale, purchase, transportation, manufacture, consumption and possession of alcoholic beverages in the state of North Carolina. The commission oversees more than 25,000 permits allowing alcohol sales by more than 18,000 retail outlets across the state.
— Editor John Charles Robbins can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 13, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.