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Music-centered violence in P.G. County

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles
Brandon Braswell was gunned down in a parking lot outside a Temple Hills nightclub in February, a shooting that occurred amid a crowd of nearly 100 people who were leaving a go-go concert.

Just weeks later, Phillip Watson was shot to death in an Edmonston nightclub parking lot, shortly after a fight broke out inside the club.

In March, Brian Cooper was killed a mile from a Capitol Heights club, where earlier that night police received several reports of fights that spilled out of the venue and continued all the way to the gas station where Cooper was shot.

Their deaths were part of a surge of violence centered around music venues in Prince George's County -- nightclubs and event centers with dance licenses and a penchant for parties that attract rowdy crowds prone to bloody encounters. Police say 61 homicides have occurred at or been linked to dance halls since 2005. At least eight homicides have taken place near the halls this year.

In an effort to crack down on dance halls, the county police department is eager for a new law that would make owners, event promoters, and others involved in the security and operations of the venues more responsible for the violence occurring so often around them.

But that is too little too late, according to Tracy Cooper, whose son was killed outside a dance hall last year.

The CFE Event Center in Forestville is located in a deserted strip mall. George Cooper, 25, was stabbed inside the club in August. Cooper was carried outside, where he was left on the sidewalk bleeding to death, according to his mother.

She blames the dance hall's owners and landlords, but also Prince George's County officials for doing nothing to make sure the venues have security in place to keep people safe.

"Clubs that do operate and allow this type of activity to take place inside need to be effectively operated so these things can't happen," she said. "[CFE has] been continuously associated with violence. My son was the first so far to have been hurt inside the club, but certainly the surrounding area, the parking lot, is a danger."

Prince George's Councilwoman Karen Toles, D-Capitol Heights, has introduced a bill that requires strict security plans inside and outside dance halls and would place more responsibility on the owners, promoters, and other staff involved in the dance parties and concerts from which the violence stems, she said. The fee for acquiring a dance hall license would also increase from $200 to $1,000.

The Prince George's County Police Department supports the bill, saying it would finally give police and other law enforcement officials the teeth necessary to punish and shut down dance halls with a history of violence.

CFE has remained open since Cooper's death. A 13-year-old girl was shot in the leg outside the venue in March. In June, a disgruntled patron rammed three people in the parking lot, including an off-duty police officer moonlighting as a security guard.

"The message that needs to be sent to the venues that attract these types of activities that in turn attract violence is you're not welcome in Prince George's County," said Deputy Police Chief Kevin Davis.

Dan Richardson, co-owner of Plaza 23 Event Center in Temple Hills, hires his own security for the club, but said he also requires additional security depending on the event his venue hosts.

"Everything can be controlled to some extent," Richardson said. "We try to be on top of it, but there's some things we can't control."

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for July 19.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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