Volume 76, Number 2 | May 31 - June 6 2006

After another bouncer kills, pols hold club accountable

By Albert Amateau

The arrest of a bouncer for the May 23 shooting outside a Chelsea nightclub that ended in the death of one man, left another paralyzed and two injured, has prompted City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and State Senator Tom Duane to propose legislation to close down clubs whose bouncers carry unlicensed guns.

In a joint statement in response to the shooting outside Opus 22 at the corner of 11th Ave. and W. 22nd St. and the subsequent arrest of the bouncer, Stephen Sakai, 30, for the shooting with an unlicensed gun, Quinn and Duane declared, “Unlawful behavior by individuals and businesses in this district will not be tolerated.”

Quinn said she would introduce a bill to amend the city’s Nuisance Abatement Law to allow a club to be shut down if a security guard has not been properly licensed or is found with an unlicensed or illegal weapon.

Quinn also will propose an amendment to the city’s Cabaret Law to require that clubs perform periodic checks to confirm that security personnel are not carrying illegal weapons. A cabaret license — required to allow patron dancing — would be revocable if a club were shown to violate the requirement for periodic illegal gun checks.

Duane said he was exploring similar legislation on the state level. He said he would fight to provide the State Liquor Authority with the enforcement power and staff level needed to hold clubs to the highest public safety standards or face serious criminal and civil penalties.

Quinn and Duane said they would ask the S.L.A. to revoke the Opus 22 liquor license under the provision that calls for revocation when there is a pattern of misconduct or disorder that adversely affects the health and safety of the neighborhood.

Sakai was charged with pulling an unlicensed handgun during a dispute with four intoxicated patrons who refused to leave a private party at Opus 22. The shots killed Gustavo Cuadros, 25, of Red Bank, N. J., who died at the scene, left his brother, Andres Julian Cuadros, in critical condition and paralyzed with a gunshot to the neck and two other men less seriously hurt.

City Councilmember Alan J. Gerson had introduced his Nightlife Security Initiative on April 11 in connection with the murder of Imette St. Guillen for which Darryl Littlejohn, a bouncer at The Falls, a bar on Lafayette St. in Soho, is charged.

Gerson’s initiative would require all bar security personnel to provide employers with legal certified documents showing no criminal convictions in the previous five years. Bar owners would be responsible for determining that the documents are valid.

Gerson and Councilmember David Yassky would allow bars to qualify to hire off-duty uniformed police officers in certain neighborhoods from 10 p.m. to a half-hour after closing.

Gerson would also call on the S.L.A. to require bars to cooperate fully with law enforcement investigations or lose their licenses. The initiative includes an appeal to police to change the current 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. tour of duty to a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. tour to deal with the high activity during the clubs’ closing time.

Robert Bookman, attorney for the New York Nightlife Association, accused Gerson of “grandstanding.” He noted that existing state legislation already requires all bouncers to be certified, mandating they take an eight-hour course, be fingerprinted and have background checks done. Yet, Bookman said, the state should be doing more to help nightclub owners insure this training is done, since club owners must either pay for the training themselves or hire guards from high-priced security firms, which do certify their guards and offer the training course.

Yet Gerson said his bill would close loopholes and make sure that anyone working a door — under any job title — at a club has their backgrounds checked and that the operators would have to witness proof that the bouncers aren’t convicted felons. The current situation, he said, is one of “self-certification” in which bouncers themselves vouch to owners that they are not felons.

Said Gerson, “I would not expect Bookman to say anything differently, because he is trying to preserve existing loopholes. If our bill wasn’t meaningful or didn’t have any teeth to it, he wouldn’t be objecting to it.”

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson

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