The D'Place Restaurant & Sportsbar, a nightclub in southeast Houston, apparently didn't care to follow various court orders aimed at reducing crime around the club and keeping partiers safe. Because yesterday, a judge decided to shut D'Place down, send the owner to jail for 30 days for contempt, and make him pay a $5,000 fine after he ignored the judge's mandates.
In February, following a fatal shooting at the club, the Harris County Attorney's Office secured a temporary injunction against D'Place that required it to hire two police officers to patrol the club, to install security cameras, to check IDs and bags at the door, and to close no later than 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. But when agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission showed up to check up on all of that, the club had not complied with the majority of those orders, according to the Harris County Attorney's Office. The agents showed up at 3:25 a.m. and found about 200 people inside; one bartender even told the agents she usually didn't get to leave until 6 a.m.
According to the county attorney's office, that was just one of about two dozen visits the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission had paid to the club in the past couple of years. At the time the attorney's office filed its original common-nuisance complaint against D'Place last July, the club had violated TABC codes 16 times in just several months; four violations, for example, were for selling alcohol after hours.
“The [TABC] records show they've been warned, they've been ticketed, they've been given lip service,” said county attorney Rosemarie Donnelly. “TABC has worked very hard with them...They completely ignored everything.”
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Attorney Celena Vinson, who also worked on the case, alleged that, along with these violations, the club was also notorious for criminal activity. Aside from the fatal shooting in February, she said, there were several other non-fatal incidents in the past year, and Donnelly added that D'Place was also known for prostitution. After they filed suit against the club, one of its own contracted security officers even called to say that he felt uncomfortable even to be associated with the club, Vinson said. She said that the county attorney's office has been working with TABC and law enforcement to identify clubs like D'Place where the party has gotten too out of hand and dangerous. (For example: Last year, the county attorney's office pursued Club Eclipse after a video of a riot in its parking lot showed up on a Facebook page called "Strippers and Fights.")
“The goal is to keep these establishments from staying open past 2 a.m., because obviously, it's a danger for drivers who are intoxicated, and [dangerous because of] the secondary effects and crime that happens in the middle of the night," said Vinson. "Unfortunately, there are too many in Houston and Harris County.”
D'Place's attorney, Frank Mba, said that the owner, Anselem Eze, did his best to follow the orders, but was simply a "victim of the circumstances" of that particular area. "He didn’t have control over what was happening in that area," Mba said. "That area is known for prostitution and illegal activities. Unfortunately, his business was right in the middle of it all."
Mba also said that on the night the undercover agents came to the club, Eze was not there. Mba says Eze had directed the managers to shut down the party at 1 a.m., which they apparently ignored. So whether it was just really bad luck for Eze or months of TABC violations finally coming to a head, either way, looks like the party will be shut down for good instead.