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Rio Nightclub Loses Bid To Reopen As City Seeks Permanent Closure

By Alisa Hauser | March 3, 2017 5:50am
 Rio Chicago, 2200 N. Ashland Ave., used to be the Green Dolphin.
Rio Chicago, 2200 N. Ashland Ave., used to be the Green Dolphin.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

BUCKTOWN — The Bucktown nightclub Rio has lost its appeal to reopen after the city ordered it closed after the shooting of a 29-year-old bouncer there in the fall.

On Tuesday, a representative for the former Green Dolphin club, 2200 N. Ashland Ave., appeared before Cook County Circuit Judge Franklin Valderrama to contest the six-month closing of the venue. It was ordered to shut down Oct. 26 by Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson on grounds that the club was a threat to public safety.

Valderrama upheld the closure and denied club owner Sam Menetti's request to stay open, according to court documents.

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city's Law Department, said Wednesday the city successfully defended its order to close the club, and the venue will remain closed until at least April 26.

In a separate matter, the city also is trying to revoke the club's business licenses; a hearing to discuss the licenses at the office of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection is scheduled for Tuesday.

The licenses at stake are Rio's tavern license allowing it to serve alcohol, its outdoor patio license and late-hour license allowing it to stay open until 4 a.m. It also has a public place of amusement license, which allows live music and DJs.

If the efforts to revoke the licenses are successful, the business would not be allowed to sell alcohol for a year — regardless of who owns it, McCaffrey said.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said the Department of  Business Affairs and Consumer Protection "has the evidence they feel is necessary to continue their case," and whether Rio will open again is "in the hands of the city attorneys."

"The new liquor commissioner [Shannon Trotter] was made aware by several aldermen at her appointment process last month about particular liquor license holders not following license rules," Waguespack said.

A representative for Menetti did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Green Dolphin nightclub changed its name to Rio Chicago after two slayings outside the club in 2015, but violence nearby continued, according to 105 pages of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

In the year leading up to its city-ordered closure, 225 calls to police resulting in 25 reports of violence were made about the club or around it, records show.

The violence included one person being shot, three shots fired, six people armed with handguns, 36 episodes of battery/fights and eight disturbances, according to the report.

In one case, two women were taken to an area hospital after a fight in the club's bathroom, records show.

In the Oct. 23 incident in which 29-year-old security worker Charles Thomas was shot, the report says video footage showed the shooting suspect inside the club around 5 a.m. The suspect, a regular at the club, can be seen grabbing a black handgun and pointing it at a security guard.

At least two other security guards pull out guns and point them back at the shooter while other customers are present. For about 3½ minutes, the man waves his gun, pointing it at security and other people in the club. Four security guards can be seen with guns pointed, as well.

At one point, Thomas "can be seen loading a magazine in his gun and chambering a round while the gun is pointed in the direction of the patrons," according to the report.

The shooting suspect can later be seen on a camera outside the club firing at the club and then speeding away. Thomas suffered a bullet wound in his leg, police said.

The city's report concludes that security guards at the club "show a blatant disregard for the safety of their patrons, employees and the general public by failing to exercise any semblance of firearms safety in the performance of their duties."

Before the last year of violence, Deonta Jackson, 35, and Elijah Moore, 41, were killed when a March 2015 fight inside the Green Dolphin spilled into the street.

After those slayings, Waguespack slammed Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office for not shutting down the club sooner. Since 2006, the alderman said at the time, the club had been fined or ticketed more than a dozen times for violations, and fights had become commonplace. 

Waguespack previously said a temporary shutdown is not enough. 

"I'm glad to see it closed for six months, but I would rather see them closed permanently because they have proven to the city and neighborhood that they don't know how to run a business that is free of violence and sapping police and city resources," Waguespack said.

The ordinance used to shut down the club for being a threat to public safety allows a reopening when the business owner "takes reasonable steps to protect its employees, patrons and members of the public from future harm," the city says.

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