The Fremont East nightclub 512 is under scrutiny from Las Vegas city officials for a series of alleged violent incidents that have occurred at the downtown business, but the owner claims the establishment is being unfairly singled out.
Rod Perdew, president of RTB, Inc., which owns the club, says 512 is not the nuisance the city has portrayed. The City Council on Wednesday approved issuing a complaint for disciplinary action against RTB, Inc. and set a public hearing for next month where policymakers could decide to revoke 512’s business license.
“During the course of the last three years, there has been a pattern of violent acts and non-compliance issues at this location,” Deputy Planning Director Mary McElhone said.
The complaint issued by the city details incidents dating back to July 2017 including reports by patrons that they were roughed up by club security. In a July 2018 incident, a man reported to police being mistaken for someone involved in an earlier fight at the club. He said he was punched multiple times by security and suffered an open fracture to his mandible.
The most serious incident within the complaint described a shooting by suspects involved in a fight at the club, formerly known as Red, on Dec. 23, 2017. The suspects were kicked out of the club by security and returned, shooting at the guard of nearby pizza restaurant, Evel Pie. The guard was struck four times, according to the complaint.
City officials also pointed to club’s inability to control its lines, blocking adjacent businesses and forcing crowds to step onto the street to move around the queue. The club has been closed twice by the Metropolitan Police Department in the past 18 months. In May, it was shut down for two weeks after two fights involving security within days.
Between both incidents, a man was knocked unconscious by a security guard and another was sucker-punched and also knocked out by a guard, according to the complaint.
“Just because there hasn’t been a shooting or anyone’s been beaten up recently doesn’t mean that this isn’t a situation that needs to be diffused,” Deputy City Attorney John Curtas said.
Stepping up security
The club, first licensed to operate by city officials in August 2016, has not had any problems over the past six months after beefing up security and instituting a new security plan, according to Perdew.
He acknowledged that a former security guard “overreacted” in May. After a patron knocked his teeth out, the guard chased the man into the street and retaliated with violence, he said. But Perdew, who has since hired third-party security as requested by the city, rejected that other cited incidents occurred as reported or should be tied to 512.
From Perdew’s standpoint, the city has failed to account for the sheer volume of customers who cycle through the club’s doors — more than 50,000 since June — and the nuance of interactions between sometimes combative patrons on frenzied Fremont Street and security tasked with deescalating conflict.
The club tends to draw a rowdy crowd, he said, but has made inroads on improving filtering bad actors since the May incidents by introducing a “patron scanner,” which photographs customers and checks ID. Customers must also pass through a metal detector.
“We’ve got the most advanced security system (for nightclubs) in all of downtown,” he said.
Perdew also said that 512 is seeking to pivot its business model from a club that predominantly plays hip-hop music into a split venue with a Mexican restaurant and a club that features smaller, more diverse musical genres and that would be open during the day to show televised sports.
He said he believed that enhanced security and a new business proposal would ultimately keep the club from running afoul of the city, but he also questioned why other clubs on Fremont Street with similar struggles were not being brought in front of the council.
“It’s so bewildering to me,” he said. “I don’t know what got us to this place.”
Fate hangs in the balance
While Perdew suggested that he has been responsive to city requests, 512 will be under the microscope during a Jan. 15 public hearing, where the council could opt to revoke its business license. Perdew has hired a lawyer, Clyde DeWitt, to represent the club, and DeWitt will likely be forced to respond to concerns including how Perdew hired two motorcycle gang members to act as security.
Perdew said it was his impression that two brothers formerly on his staff belonged to a Christian motorcycle group and they never created problems, but city officials criticized the business for it on Wednesday.
“We also think it’s pretty much the wrong business in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Curtas said. “And you know hiring motorcycle gangs to do your security hasn’t worked since 1969 when the Rolling Stones tried it.”
Perdew concluded that he felt he was being railroaded and that the complaint seemed politically motivated despite the long list of incidents it laid out.
As for what happens next, “are we at a point where we should say this is a losing battle and sell the place?” he said. “We don’t want to do that.”