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On Dec. 20, Charles Creek left his Saturday job at the chicken stand at Eastern Market and dropped off a few wings for his sister, Grace. After a short visit, he headed home to Potomac Avenue SE and joined up with eight or nine old friends to go out dancing at a local party spot. By midnight, DJs Fhase, Archie, and Black were spinning tunes for as many as 500 people, who had been drawn in by fliers promising special appearances from both a local featherweight boxing champ and an R&B singer from New York.
Neither of the celebs made it to the party, but that didn’t affect the draw. Around 2:30 a.m., one of the sweaty bodies on the dance floor slumped to the ground. People initially thought the guy was a casualty of one too many drinks. But then the blood began to flow. By the time medical personnel could navigate the chaos that ensued, the 31-year-old Creek had bled to death from a stab wound, and another man was seriously injured.
Stabbings and murders are fairly routine events in parts of the D.C. club scene. But Creek hadn’t been mixing it up at the old Ibex or D.C. Live. He was murdered in the Rose Room, a banquet hall in the belly of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, the city’s 38-year-old sports stadium. When Creek’s death hit the news, neighbors around East Capitol Street were stunned to discover that RFK had become a favored site for late-night booze parties. The December event was only one of more than a dozen so-called cabarets held at RFK over the previous year.
“The biggest issue to me is, what the hell are they doing there at 3 in the morning?” asks John Capozzi, a Barney Circle resident. When Capozzi sought an answer to that question, he didn’t inquire with city bureaucrats, though, because RFK isn’t run by the city. It’s run by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, a quasi-independent entity overseen by some of the city’s finest downtown lawyers, union bosses, and real estate developers—the kind of people usually complaining about city property, not running it (“Squeeze Play,” 5/14).
If Capozzi had really wanted to protest the goings-on at RFK, he should have called the old-line law firm of Williams & Connelly, where he would find Sports Commission member Paul Wolff. Or he could have dialed Georgetown University, where member Linda Greenan is assistant vice president for external relations. And if he couldn’t reach commissioner William Hall at the Winston & Strawn law firm, he might have cornered him at the town hall meeting in March when Hall argued that the people who ran RFK should now help build a new downtown baseball stadium.
The only problem, though, is that if Capozzi had managed to ask any of those commissioners what had happened to Charles Creek, they wouldn’t have been able to tell him. While the killing raised eyebrows among RFK’s neighbors, Sports Commission board member William Lucy, the international treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, didn’t even know there had been a murder when contacted last month. “I’m not apprised of all that is going on,” he says. Hall maintains that he knows of the homicide only from reading about it in the paper.
The Sports Commission’s lack of concern about a murder on its primary piece of real estate rankles Creek’s family. “They don’t know, and he was killed on government property?” asks Grace Creek. “He bled to death on the dance floor.” She intends to make sure the commission doesn’t forget about what happened to her brother. She and her family are in the process of filing a suit alleging that the commission failed to provide adequate security for the party.
Lawsuits from injured people are a fairly normal part of the stadium business. Every time some knucklehead throws a bottle that bonks someone in the head during the WHFStival, the Sports Commission gets sued. The night Creek was murdered, though, he was at an event that’s not exactly normal stadium business. And although stabbings at RFK aren’t unheard of, no one had ever been murdered there before Creek.
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Sports Commission Marketing Director Neville Waters says the commission had initially intended to rent out its banquet rooms for private events like weddings. But word quickly spread among low-budget cabaret promoters that RFK offered a big, cheap room with a liquor license, lots of parking, and lots of insulation from neighbors who might complain about noise. All you had to do was hire a DJ or two, put up some fliers, and charge $15 a head to get in. Promoters could easily net $4,000 a night off the door take alone.
Grace Creek says she has been able to piece together only a sketchy picture of what happened to her brother, but Hal Blue, one of the cabaret promoters who was on hand that night, says, “There was a breakdown in security.”
Blue’s contract with the Sports Commission stated that the commission would provide two security guards with the room rental price of $1,600. To be safe, Blue paid an additional $300 for more guards—how many the contract does not say—and to ensure that those security guards checked guests with handheld metal detectors, a fact Waters confirms. But Blue says that about an hour after the party started—just before the largest throng of guests arrived—the guards stopped using them. “They used the wands for an hour, then sent them back upstairs,” says Blue.
And Gary M. Sidell, the Creeks’ lawyer, points out that there were other stadium security lapses, as well. The cabaret promoters had included warnings on posters and fliers for the party that guests would not be allowed to come and go, no one under 21 would be admitted, and a strict dress code would be enforced—no Timberland boots, no athletic wear, and basically no clothes that would make it easy to conceal a weapon.
But on the night Creek died, Blue says the stadium security wasn’t enforcing the dress code, checking identification, or searching people after the first few guests arrived. Grace Creek knows for sure that the security officers weren’t enforcing the dress code. “My brother was wearing boots when he died,” she says. “If they had been enforcing the dress code, this would never have happened.”
Waters disputes charges that stadium security was responsible for Creek’s death. “They did all that they can do,” he says. “I’m not sure that it was something that was preventable.” He explains, too, that RFK is precluded from conducting invasive searches of patrons coming into events—unlike private clubs. “We don’t do pat-downs at D.C. United Games or a George Strait concert,” he says. In fact, Blue’s contract does not spell out any specific requirements for the security. There’s no mention of the dress code. According to the contract, the Sports Commission’s only responsibilities that night were to provide a clean space, set up tables and chairs, and run a cash bar. The contract doesn’t even say that the security guards would check ID, according to Sidell. “As far as contracts go, this is pretty pathetic,” he says.
Sidell has seized on the fact that the Sports Commission insisted that Blue use stadium security for the December party—even though Blue had brought his own security for an event in November that was by all accounts trouble-free. Blue says that at the earlier event, he had between 12 and 14 security guards, including two off-duty police officers. The night Creek was killed, there were only eight guards on hand.
Waters says liability rules prevented the commission from letting Blue use his own guards. He says the commission didn’t learn that Blue had used his own security in November until after the fact. “To some degree, I don’t know whether our security, their security, more security would have made a difference if somebody is intent on stabbing someone,” says Waters.
Whether or not the Creeks’ suit has merit, it’s still surprising that the Sports Commission never took notice of the issue. After all, potentially expensive lawsuits in most places leave higher-ups doing forensics, finding ways to minimize repeats, and re-evaluating the security contracts. But at the board meeting a month after the murder, Charles Creek didn’t merit a mention.
“I don’t know that it’s something that the board would get involved in,” Waters says, explaining that the commission staff attorney would be more likely to handle any matters stemming from the stabbing. In addition, Waters says, the commission was already reconsidering the cabarets, which had started to become a problem before Creek was killed. “The whole cabaret thing sort of mushroomed. We didn’t solicit them,” he says. Waters explains that the money from the parties was fair, but the events were hard to contain in the fairly limited space. Waters says the commission has not allowed any cabarets since the murder.
This explanation was never offered to Grace Creek and her family. When interviewed, Waters admitted that he didn’t even know the name of the murder victim. Had he asked, he would have learned that Creek was a model citizen. Detective Frank Molino, who is investigating the case, says Creek had no criminal record. He worked two jobs and left behind three daughters, twin 3-year-olds and an 8-year-old. After Creek was killed, his oldest daughter had to be hospitalized after trying to injure herself by beating her head against the wall. “I guess she doesn’t believe it,” Grace Creek says. “She went searching through the house looking for him.”
So far, no one has been arrested for the murder. Waters says it’s understandable that the family would try to seek compensation and to get some closure on Creek’s death. Board member Lucy says the murder is a tragedy, but in the face of
criticism from anti-cabaret neighbors like Capozzi, he defends the commission’s use of the facility.
“If a football game does not disturb the neighbors, I don’t know why a party would,” says Lucy. “It’s not a place where you’re going to have a wedding and it’s going to be nice and quiet. These are revenue-generating events. Clearly, the community ought to be outraged and upset about a stabbing or murder. But where is the nearest neighbor? It’s hard to make the argument that a party inside the stadium is going to disturb the neighbors.” CP