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Manager pleads to dance hall permit violation

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One of the first four people to be charged under a recently passed Prince George's County's law requiring clubs that allow dancing to obtain a "dance-hall permit" pleaded guilty Tuesday to a criminal count stemming from the operation of a Capitol Heights-area nightclub.

Ronald Dixon was acting as a manager at Music Sports and Games, or MSG, the night a woman was fatally shot and a man injured in a drive-by shooting outside the club, his attorney said.

After the Aug. 8 shooting, Prince George's County police invoked what then was only a two-week-old law to padlock the club and criminally charge four of the operators running the club that night.

The other three men charged are still fighting to get the count of operating a dance hall without a license dismissed. They are scheduled to return to Prince George's County District Court in January for trial. MSG remains closed.

At Tuesday's hearing in Upper Marlboro, District Court Judge Lawrence Hill Jr. sentenced Mr. Dixon to a year of unsupervised probation and suspended a six-month jail sentence.

"Mr. Dixon wants to put this behind him and proceed with his life and his family," attorney Steven Conte said of the plea.

Mr. Dixon, a musician, was asked to get involved in MSG's operations in May by one of the other operators and had no knowledge that the club was operating with out a dance-hall license, Mr. Conte said.

MSG was denied a dance-hall permit under old county regulations in May but continued to host concerts and dances, Assistant State's Attorney C.T. Wilson said during the hearing. About 240 people were dancing inside MSG on Aug. 8, the night Jasmine Banks was fatally shot outside the club.

"We're just trying to create a safe environment," Mr. Wilson said of the wider implications of the case.

County officials touted the dance hall legislation as a way to reduce crime in the county by holding club owners accountable for activity that occurs on their property.

William Sherman II, an attorney representing another of MSG's operators, Darryl Robinson, has argued the county violated his client's right to due process by shutting down the club under a statute that was impossible to comply with at the time the four men were cited.

During an administrative hearing for a different club cited under the law, county officials testified that applications for new dance-hall licenses were not made available until the beginning of October, nearly two months after the criminal charges were filed against MSG's operators.

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