When the City of Seattle launched a nightlife initiative four years ago, one club stepped forward to be the program's first participant.
The initiative, championed by former Seattle mayor Mike McGinn, was aimed at building cooperation between night club owners, law enforcement and neighborhood groups. The goal: encourage growth in Seattle's nightlife scene while also giving the city expanded powers to crack down on clubs that generate complaints and police attention.
Clubs in Seattle had another incentive. The Washington State Liquor Control Board had changed its rules to allow bars to become night clubs, doing away with the requirement that they sell food along with the booze. Cities had the right to attach restrictions to the night club liquor licenses.
In signing on, Club Volume in Seattle's Pioneer Square agreed to a long list of requirements, including a written safety plan with procedures for scanning IDs and procedures for responding to violent, disorderly and/or criminal activity. Club Volume also paid $5,000 to send its security employees to special Seattle Police Department training sessions. And the club promised to screen all patrons for weapons.
At the time, then-mayor McGinn said the initiative "grew out of a need to support our local businesses, encourage a safer nightlife experience and build urban vibrancy in Seattle." McGinn said the initiative’s components "all work together to build stronger neighborhoods, public safety and nightlife in our city.”
But a KING 5 investigation finds that the four-year-old program isn't achieving its goals, with Club Volume -- the model club -- now considered a "chronic nuisance property" by SPD.
Since the club opened in 2010, police have been called more than 300 times -- 178 times in 2013 alone -- for a long list of complaints, from a highly intoxicated minor being punched and knocked unconscious on the dance floor, to a woman being robbed while dancing, to a security guard being punched in the eye. There were also numerous fights outside involving club patrons.
"You know, it's been the range. We've had aggressive assaults with weapons, where people have gotten shot all the way to all the crimes you associate with excessive alcohol," said SPD Capt. Chris Fowler, commander of Seattle’s West Precinct.
According to Fowler, Club Volume has also been the location of numerous drug overdose and alcohol-over-intoxication calls that required response by the Seattle Fire Department.
Sarah Miller, who lives a half a block from Club Volume, said the noise from patrons hanging out in the street often wakes her. The worst problems happen when the club hosts an 18-and-over night.
"The pattern is line up outside, go drink in the lots, go inside the club, come back out to drink, go in -- afterward, have more drinking, partying, fighting," Miller said.
On Thanksgiving weekend 2012, Charles Kendrick Jr. was at Club Volume when he was stabbed. He said the security screening at the front door made him feel confident that the club would be a safe venue. But later he was on the dance floor when a group of men attacked an acquaintance.
"So I put my hands out to try to separate the two and that's when I got stabbed, two times in the back and one close to the heart by my lung," Kendrick said.
The attack sent him to the hospital for five days, where he underwent emergency surgery. (Read the police report.)
Kendrick's case prompted action by SPD and the City Attorney, but the problems continued. In June 2013, SPD declared Club Volume a "chronic nuisance property."
"A chronic nuisance is where the bar owners refuse to, or can't fix, the problem of consistent violent criminal activity over a long period of time," said Fowler.
But nearly a year later, the club remains open. City Attorney Pete Holmes said he wasn’t convinced the police department’s case was strong enough and didn’t want to risk having the Chronic Nuisance Property Ordinance challenged in court.
"We have 30-day window after the declaration of a public nuisance in which we can take action, Holmes said. "There was an attempt made to reach out to owners of Club Volume and address some of these problems. It became clear that not only did Club Volume have work to do, so did the city in regards to enforcement."
Holmes is referring to the need for SPD to link disturbances that occur outside in the street or nearby parking lots to Club Volume.
Police began stepped up enforcement and observation of the club and the neighborhood around it.
"You can watch, you see them go in (to Volume) and out, back and forth. Good old fashioned police work -- you can watch them and make that nexus between the club and the parking lot," Fowler said.
Fowler said Club Volume has not entered into a correction plan with the city -- the first property to be declared a “Chronic Nuisance Property” to refuse to enter such an agreement.
"They have been trying to work with SPD," Holmes said, "but they have serious problems. I think they know they're under the microscope."
As for Club Volume, its owner declined to speak with KING 5. But the club's Seattle attorney, David Osgood, said the police department’s data on disturbances near Club Volume still don't positively link the club to the problems. Osgood also said, “Over the past year, we have worked with the City Attorney’s office, and have been assured that Club Volume is doing a satisfactory job maintaining safety on its premises" (read full statement below).
Holmes sees it differently. Asked if his office is prepared to drop the hammer on Club Volume, he said, "Oh, you bet. This has to change."
The city is now asking the Washington State Liquor Control Board to pull Club Volume's alcohol license, which is up for renewal.
The process involved, however, could work in Club Volume's favor. To revoke a liquor license, the state has to build a case that can stand up before a judge. So far, the Liquor Control Board said that of 16 complaints about Club Volume that its investigators have reviewed, it has only been able to sustain two.
Holmes said the nightlife policy needs to be fixed. "It really needs a lot of work. We need those kinds of public safety violations to be a thing of the past," he said.
Seattle is currently trying to get four liquor licenses revoked -- two held by night clubs, and two held by bar/restaurants.
Charles Kendrick, meanwhile, has filed a Complaint for Damages in King County Superior Court alleging Club Volume’s negligence was responsible for his injuries. Osgood did not respond to requests for comment on that complaint.
Full statement from Club Volume attorney David Osgood:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding Club Volume.
Because this matter may be headed to litigation, we cannot comment on specific allegations made by the Seattle Police Department. However, I will note that SPD data collection is not specific to one address, and Club Volume is within a block of several other clubs. Calls for service can refer to any call made within that zone, and do not necessarily involve Club Volume or its patrons.
Over the past year, we have worked with the City Attorney's office, and have been assured that Club Volume is doing a satisfactory job maintaining safety on its premises. We are reviewing the SPD's documentation, and will respond in due course.