Club Owner Faces Year In Jail

The owner of a nightclub where 21 people died in a stampede down a narrow stairway could face fines and more than a year in jail for criminal contempt of court, officials say.

"This was a disaster that absolutely should never have happened," Mayor Richard M. Daley said Tuesday, hours before the city filed a contempt petition naming the landlord, the company that operated the club and its president.

Twenty-one people were killed and more than 50 injured early Monday after a security guard used pepper spray to break up a fight that erupted in the second-floor nightclub known as E2.

In the panic, club-goers were squashed in the stairway to the first floor. Bodies were trampled and flattened against the glass door at the bottom of the stairwell.

Some witnesses said the door became blocked by the mass of people. Others claimed security guards closed it shortly after the stampede began, trapping people inside.

City officials pointed to an order signed last July by Circuit Court Judge Daniel J. Lynch ordering the landlord and the nightclub operator to stop using the second floor because of housing code violations.

Police Superintendent Terry Hillard said his department knew nothing about the court order to shut the club; city spokeswoman Jenny Hoyle said notifying police of such orders was not normal procedure.

Officials Tuesday asked that Lesly Motors Inc., the landlord; Le Mirage Inc., the club operator; and Mirage president Dwain Johann Kyles be found in criminal contempt for defying the order.

Mark Limanni, the city's deputy corporation counsel, said all three should be fined and Kyles sentenced to "up to and beyond a year in the Cook County Jail."

Lynch set a March 7 hearing on the contempt petition.

"I have kids of my own. I cannot express in words the sorrow that I feel for these families," Kyles said. He refused further comment.

Kyles' friends and associates came quickly to his defense. His church bishop, Larry Trotter, said Kyles would not have allowed patrons into the second-floor club without legal permission.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a childhood friend, issued a statement calling him "a responsible individual and responsible businessman and upstanding example of a young professional person in our community."

City officials rejected any suggestion they were slow or lax in their efforts to close down the club, which was upstairs from a Mirage-operated restaurant.
Both the restaurant and the club are now closed under an agreement between the city and lawyers for Le Mirage.

Corporation counsel Mara Georges told reporters initial efforts to close the second floor followed normal procedures.

"Absent the city being at this property 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there is no way to ensure that these people are going to follow the law," she said.

She brushed aside claims from a Le Mirage attorney, Andre Grant, that an agreement had been reached under which the club could continue to operate on the second floor except for a VIP section called "The Skyboxes."

"There is no such agreement either written or oral," she said.

A crowd control management expert who had worked with Chicago officials in the past told CBS News there was a tendency not to inspect on busy weekend nights, because it was hard to do and it was against union rules. But that, Paul Wertheimer of Crowd Management Strategies said, is when you go and you find violations.

"Way too many clubs and venues in the United States play Russian roulette with our safety and we don't even know it," he added.

"You don't say 'Hey, we're coming to your club today, can we check it out,'" he said, adding that the city has a history of being loathe to go in on weekends and see what's really going on in these clubs.

Grant previously told reporters that E2 had been rented out Sunday night to a private promoter, Envy Entertainment, which collected the entrance fees and provided security.

But Joseph Lopez, an attorney for Marco Flores, a promoter associated with Envy Entertainment, disputed that. Lopez said Flores helped pay for security, but that the club owner hired the guards. Flores was interviewed by police for four hours Tuesday night.

Hillard said numerous incidents have been reported in the vicinity of the club over the last few years and he ordered police to pay special attention after he received a phone call from civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

Jackson is a longtime friend of Kyles' father, the Rev. Billy Kyles of Memphis, who was with Jackson and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968 when King was murdered.