Show & Tell

A BEAT-DOWN AMONG GENTLEMEN

Local nightlife honcho Ron Hunt proudly claims to be “the longest-running club owner in the history of the city.”

Hunt has run the same spacious venue in Southeast D.C. since 1989. Then a dance hall and live-music club called Chapter III and later renamed the Mirage, the spot developed a rather unsavory reputation for violent fights and stabbings during the mid- to late ’90s. But that all changed in 1999, when Hunt switched the club’s moniker once again—and made a few other adjustments, too.

On the heels of an apparently influential appearance and performance by porno celeb Vanessa Del Rio, the place was redecorated with a vast array of mirrors, love seats, chrome cages, VIP rooms, and lots and lots of skin-baring dancers. And talk about a “gentlemen’s club”: Ever since morphing into the Nexus Gold Club, Hunt’s 12,000-square-foot stripperplex has boasted a virtually spotless record with police and city regulators.

At least until recently. This past November, Hunt had a nasty run-in with a couple of police officers at his club. Things got so out of hand that the proprietor with the pretty clean record even resorted to filthy language, calling one cop “a bitch motherfucker” and vowing to unleash a “beat-down” if that particular policeman ever showed up again.

Four days later, Hunt was arrested on two felony charges of threatening a police officer, charges that he calls “so stupid it’s ridiculous.”

This week, D.C. Superior Court Judge James E. Boasberg agreed, declaring the potty-mouthed club owner innocent of any wrongdoing apart from poor word choice. To think: nearly six months of due process, legal work, and court costs, and for what? A debate on the actionable implications of the term “beat-down?” If only those involved had acted more like gentlemen.

On Nov. 19, 2004, a crack team of four investigators from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) entered Hunt’s club around 10:40 p.m. According to the police report, the group was “working ‘Cops In Shops’ alcohol enforcement”—only without any apparent help from the city’s alcohol-enforcement agency.

Hunt claims it was unlike any routine alcohol check that he had ever seen. As he told the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board last month, according to a transcript: “Now, in the history of me being in that club 20 years, I’ve never seen police come in without Alcohol Beverage Control, Fire, Restaurant or some other entity with them.”

Things went well enough when Hunt introduced himself as the club’s owner. But then he made the unfortunate mistake of asking the cops a pointed question: “What district are you from?”

“That’s none of your concern,” one told him rather uncordially.

Officer David Carter then informed Hunt that the team had come to Nexus while “working an overtime alcohol detail citywide,” according to the report. To which Hunt responded rather uncordially himself: “I didn’t fucking ask you that, I asked you what district you are from.”

Hunt says he didn’t think that these guys were real cops—which probably explains why, when Carter told him to refrain from using abusive language, Hunt replied with, the report says, “I’ll fucking say anything I want to you in my club you young punk.”

Hey, they weren’t in uniform, though the report notes that the plainclothesed Carter had his “badge displayed upon his chest hanging from his neck.” Not to mention the fact that other investigators sported “MPD ‘Raid’ jackets clearly identifying the subjects as police officers.”

Badges? Jackets? OK, maybe. But Hunt claims to have been feeling uneasy due to recent news reports about crooks posing as police as a ruse to assault and rob people. He feared that maybe his club would be next: “I said, ‘I’m not giving you shit.’”

Carter threatened to call the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA)—which was fine by Hunt: “I don’t give a fuck what you do. I’ll be in my office. Send them up there.”

In his office, Hunt dialed up the nearest police substation to report the supposed impostors. The club’s manager, Damian Ward, soon joined him, bringing news that only honed Hunt’s edginess: According to a hearing transcript, Ward had allegedly overheard Carter remarking to the other cops, “What do I have to do to get this place shut down?”

“That enraged me,” Hunt told the ABC Board.

When ABRA officials arrived on the scene at 11:24 p.m., the two sides were fuming in their respective corners: the cops by the first-floor bar, Hunt in his second-level office. The officers told ABRA investigator Kevin Lee that Hunt had refused to cooperate with their compliance check and had asked them to leave.

Lee then tried something that the officers hadn’t: actually checking the place for compliance. “I visually checked the licenses,” he later reported. “They were current and properly posted.”

Not that Lee’s quick thinking put an end to the matter. Oh no.

Hunt then confronted Carter, according to the hearing transcript, telling Lee to “write this down”: “cop/no cop, gun/no gun. You are a bitch mother fucker....You are never allowed in here again. I will throw you out on your ass....That’s called the beat-down.”

Police describe the club owner as speaking “in a very loud voice,” looking Carter in the eye and pointing a finger at him as he continued to berate him: “If you come back here on duty or not, you will get a beat down.”

After that heated exchange, the cops eventually left. Four days later, Hunt wound up in jail, facing charges that could have resulted in not only fines and imprisonment, but also the loss of his liquor license. According to D.C. law, any licensee convicted of a felony also gets slapped with a “mandatory revocation.”

Not that prosecutors actually pursued such a hefty penalty:

The charges were later reduced to a single count of misdemeanor threat. And even that didn’t hold up in court.

Judge Boasberg was left to sort out the mess. “I don’t think either the officer or Mr. Hunt acted appropriately,” the judge told both sides on May 10.

Boasberg scolded Carter for what he called the officer’s “cold rebuffing” of the club owner. The judge also chided Hunt for “using the language he did.”

Still, that choice of words wasn’t enough to warrant a conviction. “It may be some other violation,” Boasberg speculated, but in his view, Hunt’s comments simply failed to meet the legal definition of a “threat of serious bodily harm.”

After an hour of lawyerly debate that followed two days of testimony and seven prior court dates, Boasberg determined that Hunt seemed to be “talking more colloquially than literally.”—Chris Shott

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