Crime at area nightclubs difficult to solve

Dominique Grant

Dominique Grant was enjoying a rare night out when her life ended in a hail of bullets.

By the numbers

Number of nonprofit private clubs in each county:

COUNTY CLUBS

Charleston 54

Berkeley 28

Dorchester 20

Colleton 8

Accompanied by friends and her sister, the 25-year-old mother of two from West Ashley started drinking and dancing at 1 a.m. in a nightclub on Ashley River Road.

To offer tips

Anyone with information about the killing of Dominique Grant (above) should call the Sheriff’s Office at 202-1700 or Crime Stoppers at 554-1111.

But at some point during that early August morning, Grant caught wind of one man’s threats to shoot a member of her entourage over allegations of infidelity. She grabbed her sister’s hand and walked out.

They continued their revelry at Frazier’s Place, a roadhouse-style establishment near Ravenel that has been the scene of a killing and investigations into liquor-law violations.

But around 4 a.m., as the sisters and another young woman climbed inside a car to leave, a gunman walked up.

“That’s when the bullets started going off,” said Grant’s sister, 17-year-old Ebony Priester. “I really think he was trying to aim for someone else. I don’t think it was meant for Dominique.”

Grant suffered wounds to her side, her shoulder and her buttocks. Her heartbeat was faint at first, but it had stopped by the time authorities arrived 12 minutes later.

The gunman made a quick escape. No arrests have been made.

Grant’s death was one of four slayings and at least 13 shootings near Lowcountry nightclubs since the start of 2012.

Eleven people survived gunshot wounds during that time period.

The most recent shooting came Wednesday night, when two people suffered bullet wounds outside the Chase Lounge near Walterboro. The same club was the scene of a killing in September.

Three shootings in the Goose Creek area during the past four months also have been attributed to arguments that started at a members-only club.

Violence associated with clubs is nothing new for the authorities who keep an eye on it. A Post and Courier report in 2011 showed that 85 shootings since 2000 had killed 26 and wounded nearly 100.

County and city officials have campaigned in past years to rid communities in Ridgeville, Hollywood and North Charleston of places they deemed as nuisances.

But the problem persists.

In solving crimes, authorities often deal with witnesses who are hesitant to talk. In preventing them, they cope with club owners who violate rules, but find ways to circumvent regulations and stay in business.

But authorities say the violent incidents are, for the most part, infrequent.

‘Faith in law’


When gunfire rang out at 9:50 p.m. Wednesday just outside Walterboro, two men bled in the parking lot outside the Chase Lounge at 1008 Proctor St.

Willie Lemon, 23, leaned against a car and nursed a gunshot wound in his arm as 23-year-old Ervin Walters lay on his back, unable to feel his legs. He had been shot four or five times.

When Colleton County’s new sheriff arrived about 45 minutes later, only a dozen people remained at the scene. Deputies learned that a dispute led to the gunfire, but they struggled to identify a suspect with witnesses’ descriptions.

“People don’t tend to see anything or don’t want to tell us what they’ve seen,” Sheriff Andy Strickland said. “We’re trying to restore faith in law enforcement, but we can’t help them if they don’t help us.”

Colleton investigators in early September suffered similar obstacles when a 34-year-old was fatally shot outside the same club. They tried “on numerous occasions,” they wrote in a report, to gather information from 20 witnesses.

But they eventually developed enough evidence to arrest Quoteas Sylvester Nesbitt, a 28-year-old man who had faced charges in the shooting of a 16-year-old two years before. He was one of several men indicted as part of an effort to root out gang activity in the Walterboro area.

“If (clubs) have the potential of being a problem, we step up routine patrols,” Strickland said. “But we’re very concerned about all shootings, as well as with the nightclubs.”

Frequent calls


A YouTube video published Dec. 31 shows two men swinging punches at each other outside Club Pluto near Goose Creek.

In the video, which has since been removed, a photographer from the club snaps photographs of the brawl as men in black T-shirts featuring the word “security” look on. Women scream.

The fight never was reported to the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, but deputies have responded to the address at 1230 Redbank Road for 14 assaults and 31 other disturbances during the past three years. They have fielded three reports of gunfire.

In one of those shootings, a club security guard shot at the man he said was trying to run him down with a vehicle in June 2011.

But recent gunfire that has been linked to the club has occurred on the nearby streets.

In October, a club photographer was shot during his drive home on NAD Road after a gunman sped up from behind. Two months later, two motorists exchanged gunfire after leaving the club, but no one was hit.

Then last month, three of four people in a car were shot as they rode away from the club. The most seriously injured, 21-year-old Brittany Sharee Middleton, was expected to recover.

Capt. John Grainger of the Goose Creek Police Department said this week that investigators have made no arrests and have developed no significant leads .

City detectives were working with county deputies to determine whether the recent cases are linked. They are monitoring gang activity, as several of last month’s victims have associated themselves with a group known as the “Purp Gang,” according to their Facebook posts.

Eric Greenway, director of the Berkeley County Planning and Zoning Commission, said his agency hadn’t been made aware of any action against the club.

The club is classified as one of 28 nonprofit private clubs in Berkeley County, according to its state alcohol license. Charleston County has 54 such businesses.

The joints are meant to be low-key and for members only. But like many, Club Pluto doesn’t shy from advertising its special events on social media.

Most weeks, the club’s Facebook page touts “red light Mondays” and “I luv dem strippers Wednesdays.”

On the night last month when two women and one man were shot, the club had advertised music by D.J. Kub & Partie Artie and a $10 flat fee for women to drink all they desired.

In earlier comments to The Post and Courier, an employee said Club Pluto was just a safe place to party.

‘Mousetrap’


Frazier’s Place at 4971 County Line Road near Ravenel, where Grant was shot in August, also has had a rocky history in recent years.

After a man was fatally shot there in June 2007, Willie Frazier Jr. said he hadn’t seen anything worse than a fist fight or shots fired into the air outside the club he has owned for 10 years.

But the next year, another patron was shot in the leg and the head during a brawl on the dance floor. He survived.

That shooting occurred early on a Sunday morning, a time when Frazier’s license doesn’t allow him to sell alcohol. It prompted an investigation by the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, which raided the club in February 2008.

Deputies confiscated 975 bottles of beer and 103 bottles of wine. They also found 82 bottles of liquor, which Frazier is not allowed to offer under a license that allows only the sale of beer and wine.

Frazier was arrested, and he pleaded guilty to two citations. But his alcohol license never was suspended, according to Samantha Cheek, spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Revenue, which oversees permitting statewide.

Attempts to contact Frazier were not successful.

Grant’s slaying launched another investigation by sheriffs’ deputies, but it revealed no violations, Maj. Jim Brady said.

Brady said club owners who do get shut down will often open a new business under a different name. It’s just one way to skirt the regulatory “mousetrap,” he said.

“Violence is usually few and far between at these clubs,” Brady said. “But we patrol them as often as we can.”

Priester was only 16 when she said she was allowed to enter Frazier’s Place and drink to her heart’s content.

She said the dozens of people there on Aug. 18 were drinking beer, wine and mixed liquor beverages.

But exactly what led to her sister’s death, which left the West Ashley High graduate’s 6- and 10-year-old children motherless, remains a mystery. Priester thinks her sister got caught in a love quarrel that didn’t involve her.

After the car she was in was riddled with bullets, Priester remembers seeing her bloodied sister, then the shadowy person who shot her. She didn’t know him.

“I just kept pointing at the person,” Priester said. “I wanted to go after him, but the security guards wouldn’t let me.

“He ran in back of the club, and he was gone.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

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