- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

CHICAGO (AP) The city will file criminal contempt charges against the owners of a nightclub where 21 persons were killed in a stampede because a court had ordered the club to be closed, Mayor Richard M. Daley said yesterday.
"This tragedy is especially heartbreaking, first because the victims were so young," Mr. Daley said. "Secondly, because it was a disaster that absolutely should never have happened."
Mr. Daley and other city officials rejected the contention by owners of the E2 nightclub that they had a deal to stay open, despite a list of building code violations including failure to provide enough exits.
"Obviously these people were intent on breaking the law, and they broke the law," city Corporation Counsel Mara Georges said at a late-morning news conference.
Hundreds of people packed into the second-floor E2 club on the city's South Side stampeded down a stairwell early Monday after security guards broke up a fight and someone sprayed pepper gas or Mace.
A lawyer for the club operators suggested someone might have shouted a warning about a terrorist attack.
Police Superintendent Terry Hillard said a security guard at the club had admitted that he sprayed the pepper spray. He said other guards denied that they even carry spray.
Police officials said they are trying to locate nightclub promoter Marco Flores of Envy Productions & Entertainment Co., who left the state on Monday. Envy had rented the club Sunday night and provided security guards for the event.
In the panic that broke out after the spraying, 21 persons died and 57 were injured.
Miss Georges said the city had done everything in its power to keep the nightclub closed with action in civil housing court.
"In this situation we followed the law … yet they violated those court orders," Miss Georges said. "There is nothing the city could have done absent being at this property 24 hours a day."
But Superintendent Hillard said the police department did not know that the nightclub was supposed to be closed.
"We were not aware of this order," he said.
Miss Georges said the city did not have the authority to padlock a business in this situation.
Mr. Daley said the city would review the way court orders are enforced.
The club was operated by Le Mirage All-Night Studio Inc., which also owned the Epitome restaurant downstairs.
City officials pointed to a court order signed in July by Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel J. Lynch telling owners to shut down second-floor operations. Three months earlier a city complaint against the nightclub listed 11 alleged building-code violations, ranging from failure to submit architectural plans and engineering reports to failure to provide enough exits.
But an attorney for Le Mirage, Andre Grant, said lawyers for both sides had reached a deal in October under which the second-floor nightclub would remain in operation.
Another court hearing was scheduled for next month, he said.
Under the deal, Mr. Grant said, an upper-level section of VIP seating, known as the skyboxes, was to be closed. The skyboxes were closed at the time of Monday's disaster, he said.
City officials made no mention of any deal to keep the club open in their public statements, but Mr. Grant said the city knew the club was operating.

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