After years of Marana providing solid support to the New West/Gotham Nightclub, including providing moonlighting police officers as security and helping to save the club's liquor license just last year, the town is seeking to shut down the troubled bar complex after a wild shootout occurred there Oct. 17.
Citing a pattern of violence at the New West, Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. instructed the Town Attorney to research ways to stop it or find a way to "proceed to shut the club down," acc-ording to a letter drafted by Sutton just hours after police say 40 shots were fired by at least five people during a melee in the New West's parking lot.
One man was shot in the leg and eight other people were treated for fight-related injuries after brawling and gunfire broke out shortly after 11 p.m during a concert by Bay Area rap musician Too $hort, according to Marana Police Department spokesman Bill Derfus.
"One of our officers at the scene described it as a mini-riot. There were people fighting and scattering everywhere after the shooting," Derfus said.
One man was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited possesor and another man was arrested for reckless endangerment shortly after police arrived. Neither is believed to have fired the shot that struck a 31-year-old Tucson man, Derfus said.
About 1,500 people were believed to be at the bar complex when shooting erupted, according to Marana officials.
The massive nightclub can acommodate more than 3,000 people in the country and western-themed New West, the rap and rock-oriented Gotham and a Hooter's franchise, co-owners Kirby Bond and Dana Dellheim have said in previous interviews.
The New West/Gotham has been the scene of two deaths, several shootings and more than 1,500 police responses since it opened in September 1997, according to police records.
According to MPD police reports and internal memos, the majority of the average 500 police responses that have occurred annually since 1997 have been to Gotham.
New West/Gotham attorney Michael Piccarreta said the club has state-of-the-art security, which includes metal detectors at the doors to screen out weapons, surveillance cameras and a sizable security staff that make the nightclub one of the "best protected" in Arizona.
Piccarreta said the club's troubles are blown out of proportion considering the size of the bar complex and the number of people it serves.
"There's a level of frustration with the people at the New West and Gotham every time some individual has a problem there that is not the fault of New West and Gotham. It becomes a media issue, and thus a political issue… It's unfortunate that the hundreds of thousands of people who come to New West/Gotham every year have to be punished for the behavior of a few troublemakers," Piccarreta said.
The club agreed to improve security as part of a settlement with the Arizona Department of Liquor License and Control in July 2000. The club agreed to pay a $12,500 fine and had its license suspended for seven days after it was found to be responsible for nine counts of liquor violations.
The state liquor board received separate letters from Sutton and Marana Police Chief David Smith just days before the board began considering disciplinary action against New West/Gotham. The board's administrative powers included the ability to revoke the bar's license.
Smith set up the contract in 1997 with the bar that paid more than $100,000 a year to Marana Police officers for providing security for New West/Gotham. Smith himself worked at the club's doors for $20 per hour on several occasions, according to MPD records.
The off duty arrangement was ended by the town in January 2000 after a police officer was injured and a gunman was shot by police at the nightclub. On May 16, 2000, the Marana Town Council voted to allow the MPD to return to the nightclub to provide off duty security for "teen nights" and other events when alcohol was not being served.
"I am writing this letter because of my belief that revocation of the liquor license of the New West/Gotham in Marana is not necessary," Smith wrote in the letter to liquor regulators June 6, 2000. "The safety of the public and their clientele is not at risk."
Sutton's letter to the director of the state's liquor control agency was also dated June 6, 2000.
"The high profile that the New West/Gotham has taken on recently as a result of some isolated incidents receiving media attention does not diminish the many charitable contributions that Kirby Bond and Dana Dellheim have made to community organizations and individuals," Sutton wrote.
Sutton's letter last week to Marana Town Attorney Dan Hochuli noted the gun battle "was not the first serious incident of violence" at the club.
"I have previously expressed my concerns to you about the safety of patrons at the club, as well as the safety of our police officers who have to respond to the club to restore peace and order … I can think of no enterprise less consistent with the values and morals of the community," Sutton wrote.
Neither Smith nor Sutton returned calls requesting comment.
Marana Town Manager Mike Hein said the town was conducting an investigation of the latest incident.
When asked why the Oct. 17 shootings prompted the town to take action, despite other shootings, assaults and deaths at the club, Hein said he would not be able to discuss specifics.
"There will be an investigation. There are potentially peculiar attributes to this particular situation that we will be reviewing. After the investigation, we'll have more ability to comment," Hein said.
Hochuli also declined comment, but confirmed aspects of the shooting differed from past incidents, and has led the town to take action.
Derfus said the nightclub usually notifies MPD when it is having concerts and other large events so the department can increase staffing, but failed to do so for the Too $hort concert.
"We only had one squad on duty to respond. The first officer at the scene was faced with 20 people fighting and basically had to go from proactive to defensive real quick and get himself out of there," Derfus said.
An MPD squad normally consists of five officers, Derfus said.
A police report indicated that the first responding officer, Sgt. Mark Bailer, was left alone in the melee when "New West security backed back into the building."
Piccarreta said he took issue with the accusation that club security threw the fight outside and then sealed itself inside.
"There's a little difference of perspective there. There is a little disappointment by the club on the law enforcement response, too. But I don't want to get in to finger pointing until the investigation is completed," Piccarreta said.
Hochuli said he was researching what actions the town could take to control the New West/Gotham or shut it down.
"Governments have the right, and have an obligation, to shut down a business that poses a danger to its citizens. But business owners also have rights that protect them from unlawful takings of their private property. It's a fine line," Hochuli said.
One of the conditions of last year's settlement between the state and the nightclub on the liquor law violations required the New West/Gotham to "employ POST certified police officers, with approval of the law enforcement agency, on high volume evening venues to maintain security."
POST is an acronym for Police Officers Standards and Training, a state agency that licenses all Arizona's police and corrections officers
A Northwest EXPLORER reporter, following up on terms of the agreement, walked the exterior areas of three concerts and events in the last year, including a sold-out concert by country and western musician Willie Nelson, and could not find any officers on site.
Lt. Jesus Altamirano, an investigator with the state's liquor control agency, said in an interview two weeks ago that it was up to Marana Police to inform the state if New West/Gotham was not in compliance with the agreement.
"I'm incredulous," said Hein. "If that's the case why didn't the state inform us of that or maybe fax us a copy of the agreement?" Hein said.
Piccarreta said the club was in compliance with the consent decree struck with the state.
"We did have a POST certified officer on the premises," Piccarreta said, but added he did not know what agency the officer was from or if there was more than one. "You don't have to be an active duty police officer to be POST certified."
MARANA OFFICER CLEARED OF BURGLARY CHARGES: PROSECUTOR CITES 'LACK OF INTENT' FOR DISMISSAL OF CHARGES
by Patrick Cavanaugh
A Marana police officer arrested for burglary by the Tucson Police Department returned to work Oct. 21 after serving a 10-day unpaid suspension.
The Pima County Attorney's Office declined to file charges against Officer Frank Moreno, who was arrested Oct. 7 on one count of third degree burglary.
Rick Unklesbay, the chief criminal prosecutor for the county attorney's office, said there was "a lack of intent" on Moreno's part, and the charge was dismissed last week.
Moreno, 31, was found by TPD officers sitting shirtless and shoeless in a car on Tucson's Eastside.
The woman who owned the car had called police shortly before 11 p.m. after seeing someone believed to be Moreno looking over her backyard wall.
Officers who detained Moreno indicated he may have been intoxicated, according to a Tucson police report.
While being questioned by police, Moreno allegedly reached into the woman's car and grabbed a cell phone sitting on the passenger seat and tried to make a call.
Police arrested Moreno because the phone belonged to the resident.
"It's not like he escaped without any discipline," said Marana Police Spokesman Bill Derfus "He did serve the 10 day suspension without pay."
Marana Police Chief David Smith levied the suspension after an internal investigation of Moreno's actions showed he violated department policy, Derfus said.
A review of Moreno's personnel file and MPD internal investigations indicated the suspension was the first disciplinary action Moreno had received since he began working for MPD in 1997.