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DC9 employees can be rehired, police detail to remain for now

January 19, 2011 - 02:35 PM
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DC9
DC9 can now rehire the employees who were intially arrested in the death of Ali Ahmed Mohammed. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

DC9 co-owner Bill Spieler and the four nightclub employees initially arrested in the death of Ali Ahmed Mohammed can return to work, D.C.'s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ruled Wednesday.

Spieler resigned from his duties in the wake of the Oct. 15 incident outside his U Street-area bar. Police initially alleged that the five men had brutally beaten Mohammed to death after he threw one or two bricks through the front window of the nightclub. But months later, the city's medical examiner ruled that Mohammed's death was the result of "excited delirium" caused by a combination of factors that included heart trouble and being restrained while under the influence of alcohol. No physical evidence of a beating was included in the medical examiner's findings, and no criminal charges have since been re-filed against anyone in the case.

"There is no evidence that the D.C. government can point to under the imminent harm standard that would allow the government" to continue to place such restrictions on the bar's operations, Assistant Attorney General Louise Phillips said.

The board's ruling constituted a fairly big change in stance on the future of the nightclub. At a previous hearing in December, board members forced DC9 co-owner Joe Englert to promise not to rehire any of the five men at any of his nightlife establishments. Englert owns a number of other bars and nightclubs in the District, including The Red and the Black, Rock and Roll Hotel, and H Street Country Club.

Now, Spieler could be back at work at DC9 as soon as this week. Englert told the board Wednesday that several of the other men involved in the incident had already moved on or left the industry, but that Spieler would be welcomed back and that bartender Evan Preller might be rehired as well.

DC9 reopened on Dec. 17, but has only been operating on weekends and holidays since then. The ABC Board previously mandated that the club hire a reimbursable police detail for every hour that they are open, a condition that costs the club's owners more than $100 per hour. On Wednesday, the board relaxed that rule slightly, voting 4 to 2 to order a police detail be in place from 11 p.m. to one hour after closing on weeknights, and from midnight to one hour after closing on weekends.

But even while the board removed several of the restrictions it had previously placed on DC9's operations, it admonished Englert for so far failing to promote "healing" with the Ethiopian community that operates dozens on businesses on the same stretch of 9th Street NW. Mohammed was of Ethiopian descent, and that community has on several occasions staged large protests and demonstrations demanding justice for his death.

"Mr. Englert, I ask you not to be tone deaf here. Reach out, ask what you can do to be part of the healing process," said board member Mike Silverstein.

"I'm more than happy to have a dialog in the community at any time," Englert said.

That scenario is pretty unlikely, however. Ethiopian community activist Andrew Laurence said later that he didn't know of anyone who was anxious for a sit-down with Spieler. "Everyone who came down today is extremely upset," he says. Laurence also said he's helping to organize a "teach-in" next week on nonviolent civil disobedience, in preparation for a protest that could come later, "in case we have to go down there and get arrested in order to make news," he says.

Also floated by the board Wednesday: Whether it would help if the bar changed its name. Englert has remained adamant throughout that the bar's identity would not change, but Mohammed friend Aman Deka says he wishes Englert would reconsider.

"At least if they would acknowledge this ... but we won't rest until we have justice," says Deka.

The board has scheduled the next status hearing in the case for Feb. 16. It also voted unanimously to refer the case to the Office of the Attorney General for what's called a show cause hearing, which would allow authorities to review the facts of the case to date to determine whether the employees violated the city's liquor laws when they attempted to restrain Mohammed.

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