Metro Weekly

Nellie’s liquor license in jeopardy after complaints referred to DC Attorney General

If the Attorney General decides to bring charges, LGBTQ sports bar could be fined, have its license suspended, or lose it altogether.

Nellie's Sports Bar
Nellie’s Sports Bar — Photo: Ted Eytan

D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration has referred Nellie’s Sports Bar to the office of Attorney General Karl Racine, setting into motion an investigation that could lead to the LGBTQ sports bar being fined or losing its license.

On Wednesday, ABRA released a report finding that Nellie’s was in violation of District code by allowing the bar to become overcrowded on Capital Pride Weekend, June 12-13, making it impossible for security and bar staff to control the situation when several altercations broke out in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 13, resulting in multiple assaults, including, most prominently, the dragging of a Black woman, Keisha Young, down the bar’s main staircase by a security guard.

The assault against Young was captured on video and shared across social media, leading to demonstrations outside the bar to protest not only Young’s treatment, but what organizers have alleged is a pattern of racist behavior against Black patrons on the part of Nellie’s staff and management.

The bar, which closed on the evening of June 13 — about 18 hours after the assault, has not reopened since the initial protests. Each Friday evening since the incident, close to 100 people have held demonstrations at the intersection of 9th and U Street NW, demanding a boycott of the bar.

Protest organizers have also called on Douglas Schantz, the owner of Nellie’s, adhere to a set of five demands: apologizing publicly to Young; publicly releasing video footage showing the events that precipitated the assault of Young; listening to an airing of grievances against Nellie’s at a community meeting; continuing to pay Black employees while the bar remains closed; and giving reparations to the Black queer community. Some protesters have suggested that the bar should be permanently closed and handed over to a Black or queer-owned and led-organization that would be able to create a “safe space” for Black queer people in D.C.

According to the ABRA report, the investigation was prompted by a call to their hotline and a letter from D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee III requesting a fact-finding hearing. An ABRA investigator conducted interviews with Nellie’s staffers, examined the bar’s surveillance footage, and referred to police reports filed by Young and others — including a man who claims he was struck in the face by a security guard while trying to film the guard who had allegedly pushed him down the stairs less than an hour after Young’s assault. 

The ABRA investigator then determined that Nellie’s was in violation of its prior agreement with ABRA, noting that the rooftop area was “overcrowded with minimal space to move around.” As a result, the investigator said, the staff and security had a difficult time removing patrons from the bar, which resulted in several altercations between patrons after they were pushed, shoved, or bumped into each other.

Based on the surveillance footage, the ABRA investigator stated that they saw footage of several individuals blatantly pouring a bottle of some liquid (thought to be liquor) into each other’s mouths, in plain view of bar staff on the second floor. The footage shows the bottle being confiscated, and patrons moved towards the exit, at which point several people begin pushing, shoving, and slapping at each other.

Young has maintained that she was mistaken by security for another person who was involved with the group downing liquor at the bar, and is not identified in the ABRA report as being in the footage showing those consuming the “outside” liquor.

See also: Nellie’s Sports Bar fires security firm, will close for the week after protests

A subsequent video shows security attempting to remove a man in a white tank top — later identified through other videos taken by patrons and by Young’s lawyer as her cousin, Dayon Kidd — and pushing him (and other patrons) down the stairs, at which point a struggle ensues at the top of the staircase between Kidd, fellow patrons, and Nellie’s staffers and security guards.

Young, identified as wearing a blue dress, then is seen arguing with another patron and scuffling with him before getting drawn into the melee, being pulled down the stairs, falling to the ground, and rising up again to hit and punch a security guard, who is the man who, in a later video clip, drags her down the stairs.

Brandon Burrell, Young’s lawyer, has maintained that his client was within her rights to use force, as the law “allows one to defend others that are in imminent danger of bodily harm.”

After conducting an investigation, the ABRA investigator determined that, by allowing the bar to become overcrowded and failing to deal effectively with the multiple altercations that stemmed from those conditions, Nellie’s was “engaged in a method of operation conducive to unlawful conduct.”

On Thursday, Nellie’s released a statement to The Washington Post noting the ABRA report’s findings that the bar’s staffers were assaulted after asking patrons with outside liquor to leave. The statement cited the bar’s long-standing policy” against patrons drinking outside liquor.

“We don’t condone what followed and we terminated the security company responsible, closed the establishment for a period to further investigate and move forward with additional training and a new security company,” the statement said.

Nellie’s also said it is planning to hold private meetings with “several groups who have expressed concern about our operation” to “best understand all of the issues involved,” and that it will work on becoming “a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all.”

Keisha Young was dragged down the stairs by security at Nellie’s during the early morning hours of June 13. – Photo: Black Lives Matter DC.

The owner of the security vendor hired out by Nellie’s to help with crowd control on Pride Weekend, NNB Security, told the ABRA investigator that the company has a “no-touch policy” but that security may “hold patrons under their arms to escort them out of the establishment but that they should not be punching anyone,” according to the report. 

The ABRA investigator then interviewed an NNB employee who had been stationed outside the door to the main entrance. He said he had been counting the number of patrons allowed inside the bar, and that approximately 250 people had entered the venue throughout the evening. He also recounted that four to five different fights had broken out that night.

A second NNB employee, who identified himself as the person pulling “the patron” down the stairs, said he was posted at the top of the stairs and had a “responsibility to keep the area around the steps clear and monitor traffic in and out of the restrooms.”

A third NNB employee, stationed inside the bar at the bottom of the stairs, said he ran up the stairs to help break up the fight at the top of the stairs and escorted three female patrons down the stairs and out the door. When asked if he had struck anyone, he said he pushed several people out of the bar who had tried to charge the door.

As a result of the investigator’s report, ABRA referred the case to the Office of the Attorney General, which enforces the District’s liquor laws. The civil enforcement section of the Attorney General’s office will then determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue charges against Nellie’s. If charges are to be pursued, the office will draft a “notice to show cause” and send it to the bar, at which point the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board becomes involved.

The ABC Board then will hold a status hearing, at which point the bar could reach a settlement with the ABC Board, potentially including payment of a fine or other penalties, which marks the end of the investigation. If no settlement is reached, the board will then hold a “show cause” hearing, where the Attorney General’s Office would present a case arguing that Nellie’s is in violation of D.C. code. After that hearing, the ABC Board then has 90 days to reach a decision, at which point they could dismiss the case, impose fines against Nellie’s, suspend its liquor license, or even revoke its liquor license altogether.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office said the office had received the case referred by ABRA, but declined to comment further on the investigation or any potential charges that could be brought against Nellie’s in the future.

See also:

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear appeal from Washington florist who refused to serve gay couple

13-year-old girl sues Florida over bill barring transgender athletes from female sports teams

Transgender woman sues hotel chain for firing her for wearing women’s clothes to work

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