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Prosecutors Have Different View of Nightclub Deal

Your article regarding the efforts by the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office to improve public safety at nightclubs operated by Nathaniel Dance significantly misrepresented the facts ("Safety Dance," News & Features, Feb. 20).

In the article, you state, "Prosecutors were willing to lift restrictions on the number of patrons allowed inside [the Cotton Club]." No such restriction ever existed.

The patron limit was one of numerous proposals that the CA's office, working together with the police and citizen groups, developed in the context of plea negotiations with Mr. Dance, who was facing criminal charges for his operation of Club 534. Our office was willing to consider a negotiated guilty plea by Mr. Dance in exchange for him putting in place measures that would make all of his clubs safer and cut down on the criminal activity occurring both inside and outside his clubs. In addition to a limitation on the number of patrons, these proposals included hiring additional security, coordinating security efforts with the Richmond Police Department, limiting operating hours, improving outdoor lighting and reimbursing the city for the costs of policing his clubs.

When presented with these proposals, Mr. Dance was unwilling to accept any limitation on the number of patrons at his clubs, but as a compromise showed a willingness to suspend his operations at Club 534.

Club 534 is located next to a residential area and college dormitories. Moreover, it had historically been a greater public nuisance and demanded disproportionate police resources. It therefore made sense to consider Mr. Dance's proposal to shut down that facility. The Cotton Club, on the other hand, is in a business district with relatively few residents at the time of its regular operations. Clearly, the city would have benefited from the closure of 534 and additional public safety measures at the Cotton Club.

In an effort to resolve the matter, we took Mr. Dance up on his offer to close Club 534 on the condition he implement every one of the security and public-safety measures listed above with the exception of the proposed limitation on patrons. Unfortunately, he rejected the proposal and all of those proposed public-safety measures, and we took the matter to trial, where VCU Police officers testified to the ongoing criminal activity and nuisance behavior at Club 534. Otherwise, VCU was not involved in the matter in any capacity.

Your reporter was aware of all these facts, but for some reason none of them made it into her article. This office will continue to work with the police, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, other agencies and citizen groups to control the criminal and nuisance behavior at Mr. Dance's clubs as well as other nightclubs in the city. Your innuendo aside, our one and only agenda is public safety.

Tracy Thorne-Begland
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney

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