Police battle ‘problem spots’ around 3 downtown clubs

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit police have stepped up patrols and enforcement at three downtown clubs in response to gunplay, stabbings and fights outside the venues, officials said.

The Bleu Club, the Annex and St. Brigids Bathtub Pub are “problem spots,” said Detroit police Capt. Octaveious D. Miles, head of the Downtown Services Section. Miles said police have been called 49 times since Jan. 1 to investigate disturbances at the three clubs.

The liquor license at the Bathtub Pub in Detroit, one of several late night downtown locations to garner police attention, was suspended Saturday.

“The vast majority of the clubs downtown are not a problem,” Miles said. “Most people come downtown and have a good time, enjoy music, dancing and adult beverages, and go home. But for whatever reason, at these problem clubs, things often end in chaos.”

Detroit vice officers on Sunday raided the Annex club and issued tickets to staff for indecent exposure, after waitresses were found in various states of undress, Miles said.

On Friday night, vice officers inspected the Bleu Club and found it was operating without a business license, Miles said. Police issued 10 citations, and club manager Zois Bricolas was arrested for operating in a place of illegal occupation. The club isn’t allowed to open until it gets a license, Miles said.

Also Friday, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission shuttered the Bathtub Pub for multiple violations that include selling liquor to minors, Miles said. The club was fined and ordered to remain closed until April 30. Club owners also may face further suspensions for failure to pay previous fines. Attempts to reach employees of the Bathtub Pub, on Michigan Avenue near Griswold, were unsuccessful.

Officials at the Bleu Club and Annex insist the problems are happening outside their venues and are not related to their businesses.

“We’ve never had one incident inside our club,” Annex co-owner Brian Jeffries said. “Of course, once in awhile someone will get drunk and they’re escorted out. But that’s it. It’s unfair to say we’re part of the problem, when things happen in the street near the club. We run a tight ship.”

Bleu Club general manager Mitch Jaworski said: “We pride ourselves on putting the safety of our patrons first. We’re very proactive about safety concerns. We’ve only had a couple minor incidents over the 17 years we’ve been open.”

When told of the club officials’ claims, Miles said: “If that’s the case, then why aren’t there problems outside the other clubs downtown? It seems like those three are attracting clientele that are causing these issues.”

The reported problems at the three downtown venues come a year after a string of high-profile violent incidents in Greektown last year, including an April 16, 2017, brawl that was captured on video and a triple shooting in June outside a parked party bus.

Detroit police Chief James Craig said he ordered increased overtime patrols in Greektown in response to the problems, and that crime in the neighborhood has dropped significantly.

Since Jan. 1, there have been 28 assaults and four robberies in Greektown — down from 133 assaults and 13 robberies during the same period in 2017, according to Detroit police statistics.

Miles said since Jan. 1, police have been called nine times to investigate disturbances outside the Bleu Club, 19 times to the Bathtub Pub and 21 times to the Annex. The problems range from shots fired to assaults to stabbings, he said.

Jaworski said outside the Bleu Club there have been “a couple incidents in the past few months, which makes the problem look worse than it is.”

On March 31, police were called to the Bleu Club after a large fight broke out.

“When I arrived at the location I heard several shots being fired in the rear of the location,” Detroit police Sgt. Gregory McWhorter wrote in his report. He added when he went behind the club, he spotted a black four-door Cadillac speeding away.

“I then went to the front of the location where several fights were breaking out between different groups of people,” McWhorter wrote.

As officers were trying to break up one brawl, 24-year-old Devontae Jackson “aggressively charged toward (an) officer,” McWhorter wrote.

A dash-cam video of the incident obtained by The Detroit News shows a man rushing into the skirmish toward a group of officers. McWhorter is seen hitting him three times in the legs with his baton before officers subdued and handcuffed him.

Miles said an investigation found the sergeant’s use of force was justified, and Jackson was charged with disorderly conduct.

Miles said there’s a pattern of complacency that leads to problems at nightclubs.

“I’ve seen it throughout my entire career,” he said. “At first, these clubs will set a high standard as far as dress code and security. But when they aren’t making as much money, they start lowering those standards, and they attract a different crowd. They may cut back on security or dress codes and age restrictions.”

Both Jaworski and Jeffries insist they’ve maintained their security levels and dress codes, which prohibit athletic wear and sweatpants.

“Typically, we turn away 25 to 30 people because of the dress code,” Jaworski said. “There’s a correlation between how people dress and how they act when they’re out in public.” He added: “We have a professional security team that takes their job seriously.”

Jeffries said there are usually 22 to 25 security guards posted inside the Annex club on Adams, just north of Grand Circus Park.

“We’re a high-end, high bottle service club,” Jeffries said. “People spend thousands of dollars per table; they’re not going to spend that kind of money if it’s an unsafe environment.”

Jeffries and Jaworski both acknowledged there are problems outside their venues.

“There have been many instances on the street involving drunk people from Little Caesars Arena,” Jeffries said. “We deny them entry, and then there are problems in the street after that. But it’s unfair to say that’s a problem with our club.”

Jaworski said people who call police to report problems in the area often use the Bleu Club as a marker. “We’ve got a big marquee, so people will see that and say whatever happened was at our club, when it really has nothing to do with us,” he said.

But problems at the Bleu Club go back several years. In 2008, The News published a story about ongoing issues there, including a double homicide outside the bar. Jaworski insisted that shooting was unrelated to the club, which is housed in the former Telenews Theatre building at 1540 Woodward.

Detroit police officers on March 31 responded to a large skirmish outside Club Bleu in downtown Detroit.

Miles said police met with Bleu Club management to discuss the problems there. “They said they want to work with us, and that they’ll tighten up the criteria to get into the club,” he said.

Jaworski called the meetings “very productive. We want to address their concerns and make sure we have a safe environment.”

Miles said he wishes he didn’t have to send extra patrols to the three clubs, but said he will continue until the problems are fixed.

“We’re committed to providing the necessary resources to resolve these issues,” he said. “We want to ensure that people can enjoy a safe environment.”