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Fights at Center of Congress Theater Liquor Hearing

 The Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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DNAinfo/Victoria Johnson

CHICAGO — Details of two disturbances at the Congress Theater — during a Chief Keef concert and an appearance by DJ Armin Van Buuren — were the focus Tuesday of a city hearing on alleged violations at the Logan Square venue.

Congress owner Eddie Carranza and theater staff are facing several alleged violations that have put the venue's liquor license in jeopardy. Those charges include venue security failing to cooperate with police, once beating a patron and stealing his cell phone, and failing to call police when a brawl broke out at a Chief Keef concert.

At a Chicago Liquor Control Commission hearing, Congress attorney Harlan Powell argued that the April 13, 2012 Chief Keef concert incident put Congress staff in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

Jonathan Errum, a Congress security guard, testified that two Chicago Police Department squad cars were parked outside the theater during the entire performance. Powell said the police saw the fight outside the Congress.

In a previous hearing, CPD Sgt. Joe Giambrone testified that Congress security should have alerted police from a landline telephone so that the city would have record that venue officials acted appropriately.

"So they were supposed to run back inside to make a call from a landline?" Powell said. "You have a situation where police are on the scene, where police are observing an incident."

The security guard's testimony, however, contradicted an undercover police officer's previous testimony that the fight had actually taken place inside the theater's lobby.

In another case, several Congress security guards allegedly beat a patron who was trying to get his picture with DJ Armin Van Buuren after a May, 2012 show. The patron claimed guards stole his cell phone after he took video of them verbally abusing him.

The Congress security guard testified that it had been security guards hired by the show's promoter, and not Congress employees, who had "detained" the patron, Marco Garcia.

In the first hearing in January, however, Garcia identified two Congress employees, along with one of the promoter's security guards, as being among those who assaulted him.

Powell said Garcia was "confused" about identities, but city attorney Maggie Shiels disagreed, saying, "He did not seem confused."

On the night of the Chief Keef concert, venue neighbor Joe Kopera, a CAPS co-chair of the 14th District Advisory Committee, was at the Congress to observe.

Kopera has attended nearly every Congress Theater hearing and said charges against the venue have been blown out of proportion by both the city and the media.

He said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) had warned residents about the Chief Keef concert and thought the alderman — along with two security guards the alderman hired and brought along — were expecting trouble from the get-go.

"Moreno had his people out there specifically looking for something," Kopera said. "There's something going on here and I don't know what it is — something fishy."

Kopera was so bothered by what he called an overreaction by police and the alderman that he resigned as the CAPS facilitator and characterized the city actions against the Congress Theater as "a witch hunt."

Venue owner Carranza is also going through public nuisance proceedings with the city's Business and Consumer Affairs department, and was threatened with closure due to building violations.

He was ultimately allowed to keep the theater open.

Carranza did not wish to comment on the record Tuesday, but has maintained that his venue is no worse than any others and he believes that he has been unfairly targeted by officials and media. He said both the Aragon and Riviera theaters are also fighting the city's building department in court for building violations.

Both venues have hearings in circuit court scheduled for May 22.

Moreno was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon, but his spokesman, Matt Bailey, said in an interview that the alderman had hired neighborhood people to patrol and watch for problems such as littering and noise the night of the Chief Keef concert.

Bailey noted that a woman had been beaten and sexually assaulted outside the theater just a few months before the Chief Keef show.

"I don't know if you overreact about something that heinous. It's our job to react. We've always had complaints, not necessarily about the Congress, but the people attending the concerts," said Bailey.

Last month, Moreno said he felt Carranza was making steps in the right direction.

No date has been announced for a ruling on the Congress.