Charleston County authorities taking proactive approach to quell repeated nightclub violence
The unmarked, cinder-block building at 3792 Ladson Road maintains a low profile during the day, when much of the area’s traffic is drawn to the Food Lion grocery and Family Dollar stores overlooking the venue.
If anything, the establishment resembles a multi-unit warehouse that happens to have running water and electricity. But until recently, the Game Room transformed at night into a popular hangout for young hip-hop fans seeking alcohol and a good time.
A fight and gunshots outside the club’s doors interrupted the party about 3 a.m. on June 12.
Tipsy men and women scattered from the parking lot and raced down surrounding thoroughfares that lead into Summerville and North Charleston, Charleston County sheriff’s deputies said.
A man lay fighting for his life on the club’s tile floor when deputies and North Charleston police officers arrived.
A bullet appeared to have ripped through his abdomen and back, an incident report states.
A gunman in the shooting has yet to be found.
Such acts of violence are sporadic, but all too common at area nightclubs, Charleston County authorities said, and law enforcement is cracking down on the issue.
A Post and Courier report in 2011 showed that 85 shootings at predominantly black area clubs like the Game Room since 2000 had killed 26 people and wounded nearly 100. Such violence has claimed several clubs in the process. Some have shut down voluntarily; in others, their licenses were revoked.
Game Room troubles
The Game Room has been the site of at least four shootings over the last 18 months alone.
Game Room troubles
The club has found itself in trouble with county officials in the past, often for having less-than-adequate paperwork to support the type of establishment it aims to be.
Charleston County officials revoked the Game Room’s business license on Jan. 29, spokesman Shawn Smetana said, but the establishment remained open for months until the latest shooting.
On June 20, the club’s owner, Ernest Candies III, skipped the court hearing that found him guilty of violating a county revocation order, Smetana said. Candies did not return phone calls or emails from The Post and Courier.
The Game Room also lacked a valid liquor license on Dec. 20 when a man fired several rounds into the club from its doorway during what was supposed to be a private birthday party. And on Feb. 1, 2012, partygoers jumped a man following an argument that continued from another bar, deputies said.
Drinks also were being poured before the latest shooting, deputies said. Each of those incidents happened well after 3 a.m.
A county ordinance that was adopted on June 18 affecting nightclub closing times could curtail the violence, Smetana said.
Currently, the law allows establishments to stay open past 2 a.m., as long as they quit serving alcohol. Law enforcement has to catch businesses in the act of serving past that time in order to do anything about it. Often that happens after a violent act has occurred, deputies said.
An amendment to that law, which goes into effect on Oct. 1, requires nightclubs to shut down promptly at 2 a.m., regardless of whether alcohol had stopped being served.
The change allows law enforcement to step in before violence occurs in the later hours.
“This closes a loophole and falls in line with other municipalities,” Smetana said.
Sheriff’s Maj. Jim Brady said authorities are taking a proactive approach to quelling nightclub violence, but that a number of issues hinder their attempts.
“One of the issues is the community itself. You’ve got some places where the community’s kind of turned a blind eye to what’s going on,” Brady said. “They have the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality and don’t report issues or just let them occur. With the Game Room, people are saying, ‘Enough is enough. Let’s do what we can to address the issue.’”
A joint effort
Repeated acts of violence and non-compliance from business owners have caused many Lowcountry clubs to close their doors in recent years.
A joint effort
Club Phoenix in Ridgeville; Club Savoy and Kilimanjaro’s in North Charleston; Chocolate City in Adams Run; and the Diplomat Club and Bada Bing in Berkeley County all shut down following shootings and other disturbances.
Club 17 South in Hollywood averaged more than 200 people a night until gunfire wounded two men and damaged six cars in January 2011. The shooting, along with other incidents, prompted town officials to pull the club’s business license a few days later.
Such shootings can be difficult to solve, with victims, witnesses and offenders as intoxicated as they are unwilling to talk, authorities said.
“It’s nighttime, that’s a danger in itself. Plus, you’ve got total chaos, Sgt. David Owen said. People running and speeding away from the scene pose a challenge to investigators who are busy gathering as much information as they can, Owen said.
“You’re thinking of scene security, what type of evidence is being destroyed, run over or taken away from the scene. You’re trying to get as much information from people and descriptions of vehicles as you can. Millions of things are going through your mind at one time,” Owen said.
In spite of the violence, county officials said they aren’t eager to shut down anyone’s business. Owen said authorities would rather work with nightclub owners and see their establishments function in compliance with the law.
Law enforcement is working in conjunction with the county’s zoning and revenue collections offices to make that happen.
“We’re able to do this combined approach to address it from not just a law enforcement, criminal issue but zoning problems, tax-revenue issues and all of those other parts that come together to have a business function,” Brady said.
On paper, the Game Room was re-established this year as a family-friendly, indoor, recreation establishment, Smetana said. Little changed in terms of actual practice, however.
The laws that registered ABC establishments must abide by don’t necessarily apply to businesses that are registered as one thing and illegally function as another, Brady said. That adds another layer of complication to the issue, Owen said.
“It’s not a quick fix. Some people, say, ‘Why don’t you just shut them down?’ It’s not just a matter of shutting them down. There are steps that have to be taken when you look at ABC establishments and ABC licensing through the state,” Owen said.
Following protocol ensures that authorities don’t tread on the rights of business owners, said Brandon White of the Charleston County zoning and planning department.
“At the end of the day we’re talking about private property. Even though there are regulations, we can’t just come right out and say, ‘You can’t use this property for any reason at all.’ They’re still allowed to use the property within the parameters of the law. Now, in certain situations, how the use is presented to us and what ultimately begins to happen on the property are two separate things,” White said.