A Marana nightclub being investigated by state regulators for 10 liquor law violations, including allegedly failing to protect its patrons, was not in compliance with an agreement the bar reached last year with the state that settled 15 other violations.
And as the Marana Police Department continues its investigation of the riot at the New West/Gotham Nightclub last month that prompted the state charges, a former MPD lieutenant who is now a private investigator and provided additional security for the bar said he blames MPD for failing to head off the riot that broke out during a rap concert inside the club.
A Marana police sergeant was beaten, one man was shot and patrons fired more than 40 rounds of ammunition from at least five different weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle, during the Oct. 17 melee.
The popular bar complex at 4385 W. Ina Road has been the scene of two deaths, three shootings and hundreds of police responses over the last two years.
The bar's owners voluntarily shut down the Gotham portion of the complex, which often featured rap music, and have limited the operation of the country and western-oriented New West to two nights a week.
"Rap music was the problem," said the nightclub's co-owner Dana Dellheim. "We're kind of weighing our options right now as to how to reorganize things before deciding about reopening."
According to the consent decree on file with the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control that settled last year's liquor law violations, New West/Gotham was required to employ state certified police officers as outside security during "high-volume evening venues."
The off-duty officers were required to be certified by the Arizona Police Officers' Standards and Training board, which licenses all of the state's police and corrections officers. The mandate to employ the POST certified officers was in addition to a $12,000 fine and a one week suspension of the bar's liquor license ordered by the liquor agency's director June 16, 2000.
Mike Piccarreta, an attorney for the New West/Gotham, said the bar was in compliance with the agreement struck with the state.
"We did have a POST certified officer on the premises that evening … I know that we also had (Department of Corrections) officers there," Piccarreta said.
He confirmed the officer on site was not actually an active duty police officer, but former MPD lieutenant Richard Salazar, who owns a private investigation agency that hired off duty corrections officers to check identification cards and frisk patrons at the nightclub's entrance.
Salazar, who resigned from his position as MPD's patrol commander Sept. 8, 2000, said he wasn't even aware of the state's requirement to have state certified police officers at the New West/Gotham.
"As far as I knew there was no requirement … they hired us just as an extra duty thing to try and ensure they were doing the right thing and that the patrons and the law was best being served. As far as I know there wasn't any requirement that we be there," Salazar said. "We carded people and patted them down for weapons as they were going into the place. We're not bouncers, we don't deal with fights in progress."
Lt. Jesus Altamirano, an investigator for Arizona's Department of Liquor Control, said the state is about 95 percent through with its investigation, and noted that the 10 violations uncovered so far all stemmed from the night of the Oct. 17 riot.
"We're still looking to see if there was a violation of the consent decree and if the POST certified officers were provided or not," Altamirano said.
The current charges include one count of repeated acts of violence, one count of allowing a disorderly person to remain on the premises, one count of failing to prevent patrons from using illicit drugs and six counts of failing to protect patrons, Altamirano said.
The riot and subsequent investigations have apparently also caused a rift in the once close relationship between the town of Marana and the New West/Gotham.
Off-duty police officers worked as paid security for the club from mid-1997 to December of 1999. During last year's investigation of the nightclub by state liquor regulators, Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr. and Marana Police Chief David R. Smith wrote letters to liquor control's director praising the nightclub's owners and Smith asked that the bar's license not be revoked.
More recently, the town council voted unanimously Sept. 6 to annex into Marana 15 acres of land owned by Dellheim. According to documents obtained from the town, Dellheim plans to build an industrial complex on the property located northeast of Ina and Interstate 10.
After the riot and shooting, Sutton instructed Marana Town Attorney Daniel Hochuli in a memo Oct. 18 to begin researching ways to either stem the violence at the nightclub or "shut it down." Marana Town Manager Mike Hein has also called for an investigation of the bar.
As for the New West/Gotham, Piccarreta and Salazar both said they are less than pleased with MPD's response on the night of the gun battle.
"I've been told, and this is all anecdotal, that they came, they left and they came back," Piccarreta said of the MPD response.
Salazar said he called MPD Sgt. Mark Bailer and alerted him to problems with the rap concert well before the shooting began.
Bailer was the MPD supervisor in charge of the five-officer squad that constituted Marana's entire police presence in the town that night, MPD spokesman Bill Derfus said.
"An hour before, I had talked to Bailer myself," Salazar said. " I said 'listen, there are some problems here, there's people who are refusing to leave, there are several (people) that I would be willing to prosecute because they are refusing to leave. We need a police presence here.' What was Marana's police response? They get in their car and leave."
Derfus confirmed that Bailer had responded to the New West/Gotham prior to the riot, but said there was no paperwork generated by the call, and he had no details of what Bailer's actions were.
Derfus said he also disagreed with Salazar's comments that Marana police took no action.
"It's a matter of perception. That's their perception and we have our own perception of what occurred," Derfus said.
Marana police later responded to a second call at the concert after three people were assaulted by a group of 10 to 15 people near the stage inside Gotham.
A 19-year-old Tucson man said he was punched, kicked and had beer bottles broken on his head and arm after a mob assaulted him for what he said was "no apparent reason."
The patron, who asked not to be identified because he feared retaliation from his attackers, said that no one from the club came to his assistance.
"They should not have an all-ages show where people are drinking, and they should have served beer in plastic containers so that the bottles couldn't be used as weapons. Security did nothing. There was people smoking marijuana all over the crowd. It was just totally out of control," the man said.
The man's 16-year-old girlfriend tried to come to his aid as he was being beaten, and she was also assaulted. A 25-year-old bystander said he was also attacked as he tried to prevent the crowd from striking the 19-year-old, police said.
All three were transported to Northwest Hospital and treated for minor injuries, according to police reports.
Less than an hour after the three patrons were assaulted, Bailer was parked across from the nightclub when a bar manager ran to Bailer's patrol car and told him of a problem on the west side of the nightclub.
In his police report, Bailer said the "entire west parking lot of the bar was crowded with people fighting" when he arrived and that he immediately began trying to separate some of the brawls.
"I was struck and kicked repeatedly from unknown individuals surrounding me. Also, during my attempt to separate two combatants on the ground, a male subject approached and swung a pool cue, which narrowly missed my head and struck the ground directly in front of me," Bailer said in his report.
Shooting broke out just as Bailer was reaching for his baton to contend with the pool cue-swinging man, according to the report.
A 31-year-old Tucson man shot in the leg was the only person injured from the gunfire. At least eight others, including Bailer, were treated for fight-related injuries, Derfus said.
Police have made no arrests for the assault of the three patrons, the attack on Bailer or for any of the shooting that occurred.
Police arrested two men on weapons charges after four guns were found in their vehicle. The men have not been linked to any of the shooting, Derfus said.
Altamirano said he believed the investigation would be concluded and the owners of the New West/Gotham notified of the state's findings in about five weeks.