DC9 case: Are nightclub staffers ever allowed to use force?

Despite all the mysteries wrapped up in the DC9 case, a few facts stand out: 27-year-old Ali Ahmed Mohammed threw a brick (or possibly two) through the window of the U Street nightclub and fled. Thereupon, employees of DC9 pursued Mohammed and laid their hands on him. Mohammed later died.

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DC9 liquor licsense suspension
DC9 remains closed, but the liquor board is scheduled to have another hearing on the nightclub Wednesday. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

Long story short

Are nightclub employees ever allowed to put their hands on patrons? No. And yes.

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A public furor has engulfed the criminal justice dimension of this episode. Did the employees assault Mohammed? Until the D.C. medical examiner completes an autopsy report, that question will likely remain open.

Meanwhile, the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) board is examining a separate question — did DC9 staff run afoul of liquor laws by chasing and scuffling with Mohammed? The startling answer is that it depends.

Ever since Mohammed’s death, DC9 has been closed down pursuant to an indefinite suspension of its liquor license. Twice now, the ABC board has put off deciding whether it will allow DC9 to reopen, both times citing a lack of sufficient evidence available from the ongoing criminal investigation into Mohammed’s as-yet-unexplained death.

Aggravated assault charges against the five (now former) DC9 employees who were initially arrested in the case were dropped earlier this month, though prosecutors have signaled they could be re-filed later. In the absence of a criminal proceeding, the most thorough airing of facts in the case to date has been laid out before a panel of seven civilians who meet in a drab hearing room on the second floor of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration.

No anomaly there; as part of their mayorally appointed duties, ABC Board members routinely hear from bar owners and staff members following incidents that involve allegations of assault. Whenever a patron or employee of a licensed nightlife establishment is injured or the police respond to a call, ABRA sends out an inspector, and the board hears the case. As such, you might assume that there’s a wealth of prior precedents set by the board that would make it relatively easy to predict the ultimate fate of DC9. But you’d be wrong.

The ABC Board’s rulings on violent incidents at licensed establishments over the past decade have been far from consistent. The higher profile cases you’ve heard about probably tended to go one way. These are your Loves. Your Smarta/Broadways. Your Club U’s. Someone gets stabbed or shot inside a club; the club gets shut down.

But consider a case from a couple years back at Rumors. On April 27, 2008, a male patron inside the M Street bar and dance club got upset when his girlfriend was asked to leave and then escorted out by a member of the security staff. So he followed her out and started getting into a confrontation with the doorman out on the sidewalk, at which point a senior member of the bar’s security staff, Peter Furnari, chased after him. Here’s what Furnari testified happened next at a hearing before the ABC Board several months later:

“I grabbed the gentleman, and took him over into the corner and put -- grabbed my hands around each of the railings and held him there. In the process of holding him there, he was agitated, combative, ticked off. And I told him he -- ‘You just need to calm down. There is nothing -- you know, there is nothing going on. Your girlfriend is not getting hurt or anything. She has just been told she had to leave.’

“He kept arguing and wrestling with me. I said, ‘You need to calm down. You’ve got to calm down. I’m not going to let you go until you do.’”

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