The owner of the downtown nightclub Last Call said Thursday he was closing the business after a shooting last weekend.
Both club owner Dennis Steffes and his attorney Dan Owen said the shooting that injured three people was an intolerable event that forced Steffes to rethink the club's future.
"He was extremely shocked and unhappy about what happened over the weekend," Owen said of Steffes. "He wants to continue to live in Lawrence and be a responsible member of the community. He understands that safety and peace of mind in the community has to come first."
Steffes' decision to close the controversial hip-hop club comes the same day that the Lawrence Police Department identified Carlos Jerome Jackson, 26, Topeka, as a suspect in the shooting. Police are asking anyone with information about the whereabouts of Jackson - who, when he was 17, was convicted in the shooting death of a Topeka man in 1998 - to call CrimeStoppers at 843-TIPS.
Meanwhile, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said Thursday night that his office is contemplating both civil and criminal action against the Park Hetzel III Trust, which owns the building in which Last Call has operated.
Branson said he would send a letter today to the owner that police notified his office that illegal activity - permitting patrons to consume alcohol they brought in exchange for paying a cover charge - was occurring at the property. That would be a criminal misdemeanor violation of liquor laws, punishable by a jail term of up to six months, and a fine of up to $200, the district attorney said.
Further, civil charges could be filed, Branson said, for habitual violations of drug laws in the building. If found guilty, the owners could be subject to closure for up to two years, forfeiture and sale of the property, or a civil penalty of up $25,000.
Branson said he was aware of Steffes' plans to close the business.
"He's promised to do different things before," Branson said. "Until we're positive he's out, we're going forward."
Steffes, who leases the club's building at 729 N.H., did not rule out having another business at the location in the future. But he pledged he would work with city leaders on determining what that use should be.
"I have closed the business down until such time that an appropriate use can be found for that location which best serves the needs of our downtown Lawrence and meets the approval of our city officials," Steffes said in a written statement.
Mayor Sue Hack welcomed the news that the business would close.
"We don't have to worry about something similar happening at that location next weekend, and that is a relief," Hack said.
But Hack said she planned for the commission to continue with its scheduled discussion of creating a new entertainment licensing system for bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues in the city. Commissioners are scheduled to discuss an entertainment licensing system and changes to the city's zoning law in regard to bars at Tuesday's meeting. She said the licensing system would put the city in a better position to more quickly deal with problem establishments.
The closing of Last Call ends a contentious chapter in downtown's history. The club sparked serious concern by city commissioners after seven gunshots were fired inside the business in May 2006. That incident sent hundreds spilling into the streets, although no one was shot.
Following that incident, Steffes beefed up security at the club and added metal detectors. But Sunday morning's incident involved a gunman immediately outside the club who fired upon individuals - two club employees and a 15-year-old patron - who were outside the business.
Guns outside the club have been a problem. More than a dozen guns - including assault-style weapons - have been seized from cars in city parking lots near the club.
Concerns about violence and illegal drug use inside the club prompted state regulators to deny the renewal of Last Call's liquor license in December. Since then, Steffes had been operating the establishment as a bring-your-own-alcohol business.
Owen said Steffes still believes the club's liquor license was wrongly denied. But efforts to have it immediately restored have been halted, and it is uncertain whether any part of the appeal of regulators' ruling will continue, he said.
When reached by phone, Steffes said he did not want to comment beyond the written statement that he provided to the Journal-World. Steffes has been criticized by some - praised by others - for operating a hip-hop club downtown. Whether hip-hop ever would be a part of his future again, Steffes said he didn't want to discuss it. But he did say he wanted to make it clear that he has no desire to run a business that increases the likelihood of violence in downtown.
"I denounce the violence that occurred there last Sunday morning, and I will not allow people who can commit such acts to be part of our business," Steffes said.
Police are continuing their efforts to find Carlos Jerome Jackson, who has a history of violence, according to court records. Jackson was convicted nine years ago of felony first-degree murder in Shawnee County. The conviction stemmed from the shooting death of 24-year-old Dennis R. Campbell, Topeka. Topeka police said Campbell was shot after a deal involving marijuana turned into an attempted robbery.
Jackson also was convicted of aggravated robbery. He was 17 when he was sentenced to a correctional facility. Because of a law that allowed him to be sentenced as a juvenile and an adult, he was held until he was 23, Shawnee County District Attorney Robert Hecht said. Normally someone convicted in juvenile court is held until age 21.
Jackson also currently has drug charges pending against him in Shawnee County, Hecht said. They include possession of narcotics with intent to sell and not having a drug tax stamp.
Lawrence police are asking the public's help in finding Jackson. He is described as a black man who is 5 feet 11 inches and 160 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes.