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Liquor board refers Nellie’s case to D.C. attorney general

Report says fights began before Black woman was dragged down stairs

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A screenshot of Keisha Young being dragged down the stairs by her hair at Nellie’s on June 13.

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Wednesday asked the Office of the D.C. Attorney General to continue an investigation into allegations that a security officer at Nellie’s Sport Bar dragged a Black woman down a flight of stairs during a fight between security officers and other customers during the early morning hours of June 13.

The ABC Board made its referral to the office headed by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine after it received a lengthy report about the Nellie’s incident from the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), which conducted its own investigation into the incident.

The 24-page ABRA report, which includes 19 pages of addendums, including D.C. police reports and summaries of witness interviews, accuses Nellie’s of being in violation of the D.C. Code pertaining to its liquor license by failing to follow proper procedures during an outbreak of violence on its premises.

ABRA spokesperson Aaron King told the Washington Blade the Office of the Attorney General will make the final determination on whether Nellie’s and its staff violated D.C. law or regulations pertaining to the Nellie’s incident. King said that if the OAG finds that violations did occur the ABC Board could then hold a Show Cause Hearing to determine whether to impose a monetary fine and/or suspend or revoke Nellie’s liquor license.

The public version of the report released on June 30 by ABRA includes dozens of blacked out names of witnesses and the names of one or more investigators who interviewed them.

The report and the investigation that prompted it came about after the release of a video by a Nellie’s patron on Instagram that captured the Nellie’s security guard dragging customer Keisha Young, 22, by her hair down a flight of stairs. The video, which went viral on social media, prompted expressions of outrage by LGBTQ activists and local LGBTQ and racial justice organizations, several of which joined forces to hold protests outside Nellie’s over the following two weeks.

Nellie’s released a statement Thursday night pointing out that the ABRA report also found the altercation began when “Nellie’s staff” were assaulted after they asked a group of patrons who reportedly brought in their own bottle of liquor to leave the establishment.

“Consumption of outside alcohol is against Nellie’s longstanding policy,” the statement says. “We don’t condone what followed and we terminated the security company responsible, closed the establishment for a period to further investigate and move forward with additional training and a new security company,” according to the statement, which adds, “We fully cooperated with ABRA on its investigation.”

Some of the groups participating in the protests outside Nellie’s in the weeks since the June 13 incident are calling for Nellie’s to close permanently regardless of what, if any, action ABRA or the ABC Board takes against Nellie’s, which has long been considered one of D.C.’s popular LGBTQ bars.

And some of the groups, including Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, a Black-led community defense group headed by Makia Green, who describes themself as a “queer trans non-binary Black liberation organizer,” have alleged that Nellie’s has a history of bias against people of color despite the fact that many of Nellie’s customers have been African-American men and women, LGBTQ and straight.

Preston Mitchum, a D.C. attorney and co-chair of the board of the local group Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), said that as a former Nellie’s patron he observed practices by the Nellie’s staff and management that he believes were racially biased against Black customers long before the incident involving Keisha Young.

On the day following the incident, Nellie’s issued a statement saying it had immediately dismissed the private security company whose employee was shown on the video dragging Young down the stairs. Nellie’s also apologized for the incident, but did not specifically apologize to Young, prompting further expressions of concern by activists and Young herself, who said she was injured during the incident.

An attorney representing Young said he expected to file a lawsuit on her behalf against Nellie’s seeking damages for the injuries and emotional distress to which she allegedly was subjected during the incident.

The ABRA report states that an ABRA investigator, whose name is blacked out in the public version of the report, “determined that on Sunday, June 13, 2021, Nellie’s Restaurant & Bar, located at 900 U Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., was in violation of D.C. Official Code 25-823(a)(2).” The report adds, “Specifically, multiple assaults occurred inside the establishment while the licensee was engaged in a method of operation conducive to unlawful conduct. This determination was based on a review of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) PD-251 reports, staff interviews, and surveillance from the establishment.”

The report also includes detailed accounts of statements made to ABRA investigators by Nellie’s customers, employees and the Nellie’s owner, who is not identified in the report but is widely known to be Douglas Schantz, a D.C. resident who lives within walking distance of Nellie’s.

In addition, the report includes a detailed description of video surveillance footage taken from Nellie’s own security cameras. It says the Nellie’s video shows that Young, who is not identified by name, had been involved in a fight with at least one other Nellie’s customer before she was dragged down the stairs by the security guard.

“The complainant of assault identified as [redacted name] wearing a blue outfit and long blond braids is seen at 1:29:32 a.m. at the bottom righthand corner of the frame,” the report says. “[Redacted named] is observed having words with another patron and then pushing [redacted name] and then punching him multiple times in the back of the head.”

Brandon Burrell, an attorney representing Young, has told media outlets that the security officers and Nellie’s employees appear to have mistook Young for another woman who reportedly brought into the bar a bottle of liquor, which prompted security to demand that those involved in drinking the outside liquor leave Nellie’s.

Burrell has also said that prior to her being pulled down the stairs Young got into an altercation with another security guard in an attempt to stop the guard from assaulting her cousin.  

The ABRA report says the action by the security officers and a Nellie’s bartender to eject the patrons who reportedly brought in a bottle of Bacardi Limon and who were “consuming shots blatantly in front of the bar” from that bottle triggered the altercation that led to Young being dragged down the stairs.

Included in the ABRA report is a copy of a June 16 letter that D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III sent to ABRA Director Fred Moosally expressing concern about Nellie’s handling of the altercation and calling on Moosally to open an ABRA investigation. Contee told Moosally in his letter that he learned details about the incident from patrons and others who filed police reports about the altercation, including a police report filed by Young on June 14 at the department’s Third District Station.

“Most concerning about this incident is that at no time did Nellie’s Sports Bar staff, management or ownership make any effort to contact the MPD to report the incident or to self-report the ABRA-related incident,” Contee states in his letter. “Instead, Nellie’s Sports Bar carried on with business as usual,” his letter says.

“Later that day, the incident apparently prompted an unscheduled First Amendment assembly in front of the establishment, which drew over a hundred protesters,” Contee wrote in his letter. “During this demonstration, Nellie’s Sports Bar ejected all patrons, locked their doors and closed for business.”

Later that day, Nellie’s announced it was temporarily closing while continuing to pay its employees and while contemplating how best to respond to the incident involving Young and the protests. The establishment has remained closed since that time.

The statement released by Nellie’s through its attorney Andrew Kline on Thursday night disputes Contee’s claim that Nellie’s didn’t call the police during the June 13 altercation.

“According to the ABRA report and contrary to published reports, and even MPD, Nellie’s personnel DID immediately notify MPD as this incident was occurring,” the statement says. “We will continue to work to identify and address all factors which may have given rise to this incident so that Nellie’s will be a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all,” says the statement.

It concludes by saying, “We plan to meet privately with several groups who have expressed concern about our operation so we might best understand all of the issues involved.”

The police report filed by Young lists the incident in which she was dragged down the stairs at Nellie’s as an “assault with significant bodily injury.”

 Gay nightlife advocate Mark Lee said the action by ABRA and the ABC Board in response to the Nellie’s incident is standard practice seen when altercations surface at other establishments. 

“ABC Board referral to the Office of the Attorney General is a commonly standard procedure in cases of this type and does not represent a finding or judgement in the matter,” Lee told the Blade. “As unfortunate as on-premise patron altercations are, they do sometimes occur at local establishments and are subject to review by both the ABC Board and OAG,” Lee said.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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Virginia

Youngkin mum on whether parents should report teaching of LGBTQ topics

Republican governor on Monday touted tip line during an interview

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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A spokesperson for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has yet to clarify whether the governor is encouraging parents to report educators who are teaching LGBTQ-specific topics.

The Washington Post reported Youngkin on Monday during an interview with John Fredericks on “Outside the Beltway with John Fredericks” referenced a tip line that parents can use to report the teaching of “divisive” subjects.

“We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations [to] help us be aware … of their child being denied their rights that parents have in Virginia, and we’re going to make sure we catalogue it all,” Youngkin told Fredericks, according to the Post.

Fredericks co-chaired former President Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter on Tuesday did not respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the tip line.

The first executive order that Youngkin, who is a Republican, issued after he took office on Jan. 15 ended “the use of” so-called “critical race theory” (which is not taught in Virginia public schools) and other “divisive concepts” in the state’s classrooms.

Youngkin during his campaign against Terry McAuliffe expressed support for Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Leesburg elementary school who was suspended from his job after he spoke out against Virginia Department of Education guidelines that are designed to protect transgender and non-binary students. Youngkin has also said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Youngkin has named Elizabeth Schultz, an anti-LGBTQ former member of the Fairfax County School Board, to his administration.

Republicans control the House of Delegates by a 52-48 vote margin. Democrats have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) has introduced Senate Bill 20, which would eliminate the requirement that school districts must implement the Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines. State Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) has put forth Senate Bill 766, which would ban trans students from school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity. State Del. John Avoli (R-Stanton) has sponsored House Bill 1126, which would restrict the ability of transgender students and school board employees to use bathrooms and other facilities in public schools.

Democrats have vowed to block any anti-LGBTQ bill in the General Assembly.

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