The only way to curb violence at some area nightclubs -- clubs that have been the sites of dozens of reported shootings, stabbings and fights over the last two years -- may be to put them out of business, said Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner.
Nightclubs Johnny's Blue in Sheldon and Studio Seven in Burton, the sites of two shootings last month, were frequent destinations of Tanner's when he was investigating drug dealers as a drug enforcement officer in the late 1980s, he said.
"When I was on the street working narcotics, we would go to these clubs routinely," he said. "Johnny Blue's and Studio Seven were both open when I was working dope, and we'd go there in the middle of the night, at 2 or 3 in the morning, just to show presence."
The violence that has plagued Johnny Blue's and Studio Seven should not taint other law-abiding clubs in northern Beaufort County, Tanner said, but he added that the threat that certain clubs pose to the community cannot be overlooked.
"We have a lot of mom-and-pop-type clubs that are out there and are community gathering locations where people like to go on a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday night and legally do things like drink a beer or have a fish fry or a birthday party," he said. "I have no problem with that at all, but when the calls for service, and the intelligence that we have tells us who's hanging out there, it's time to put you out of business. It's time to shut down, because you're attracting an element that is dangerous for that community."
Studio Seven and Johnny Blue's were hotbeds of violent criminal activity well before two gunmen, who still have not been identified, wounded four men, according to calls for service statistics from the Sheriff's Office.
On July 5, an unknown gunman walked into Studio Seven and shot 29-year-old Kevin Holmes, a shooting that triggered two retaliatory shootings: a drive-by later that night on Beeburst Lane and a high-speed shoot-out on U.S. 21 in late July. Three arrests have been made in connection with those crimes.
The shooting at Studio Seven was hardly the Sheriff's Office first run-in with the club's clientele. Since January 2006, the Sheriff's Office has received 279 calls for service to Studio Seven, and of those calls, 34 incident reports were filed, including nine reports of assault and battery, one report of assault with intent to kill, one report of someone pointing a firearm inside the club and one report of arson.
The club has not been found in violation by the state on its liquor license, according to the S.C. Department of Revenue, but Beaufort County reported that the club has been operating on an expired business license. The club's owner has been warned of the expiration and has until later this month to comply with a warning ticket written by the county's code enforcement department or the club will be shuttered, said Beaufort County spokeswoman Suzanne Larson.
While Studio Seven's business license had expired, Johnny Blue's had been operating without a county business license or a state liquor license, according to Beaufort County and the Department of Revenue. The club's owner has been given time by the county to comply.
The club was the site of the July 22 shooting of three men by an unknown gunman. Two of the men, 55-year-old Lewis Sumpter and 50-year-old Nathaniel Blue, had to be flown to regional trauma centers with life-threatening injuries. Blue is believed by investigators to be the son of the club's owner. No arrests have been made in the shooting.
Since January 2006, the Sheriff's Office has received 22 calls for services -- including six calls for gunshot victims -- and filed 14 reports based on incidents inside the club. Those reports include three reports of assault with intent to kill, four reports of assault and battery, three reports of shots fired and one report of grand larceny.