The owners of Music Sports and Games (MSG) in Capitol Heights pleaded guilty to operating a dance hall without a license under the county’s new dance hall bill after a double-shooting last summer brought attention to it.

“The enforcement and penalty provisions of CB-18-2011 allow County law enforcement officials to charge and convict managers of clubs who operate dance halls without a license and this is what has happened in the criminal matter involving the MSG club,” said Councilwoman Karen Toles, D.-Dist. 7, after the hearing. “The fact that four MSG managers involved in this matter have pled guilty and been formally sentenced for their crimes is evidence that this new law is needed and working.”

Eric Pickens and Darryl Robinson both pled guilty to charges of operating a dance hall without a license under CB-18-2011, which placed the burden of the security and safety of night clubs in the county squarely on the owners after the previous law allowed ambiguity for who was at fault when incidents happened.

Attention was brought to the two after 20-year-old Jasmine Banks was shot in a drive-by shooting after the go-go band, TCB, who was already blacklisted by the county’s liquor board and was operating under an alias, was allowed to play at the establishment.

The law championed by Toles was meant to serve as a wakeup call to club owners and to give county residents piece of mind. Public safety officials are happy that someone took the initiative to put a law like this in place.

“Today demonstrates a big step in our efforts to prosecute violators of CB-18-2011. Dance halls that operate illegally routinely violate fire codes, liquor laws and other regulations and they are a danger to our community,” said State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. “The acceptance of the pleas today is among only the first steps in removing these illegal dance halls from our community and we hope to use CB-18 to shutter additional illegal dance halls in the near future.”

While county residents are pleased with the decrease in violence stemming from these venues inside the county, club owners and promoters aren’t so excited about the law. Some have argued the constitutionality of the law and others said the club owners weren’t given a legitimate shot to implement the requested changes before the law took effect.

The county passed this as emergency legislation though, which meant the changes were to go into effect immediately after its passing.

Anyone looking to operate a dance hall in the county must fill the application posted on the Department of Environmental Resources website. The website also includes an application for a security plan, instructions for what that security plan is supposed to have and a sample plan.

Jerome Tillery, a promoter, and Ronald Dixon, a manager have also pleaded guilty in connection with MSG.

In October, the Family Restaurant in Temple Hills was closed after one man was shot and three other patrons were stabbed.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO