Neighbors angry that club attracts violence

Friday, January 2, 2004

Some Good Hope Street residents want the Taste after-hours club permanently closed in the wake of a fatal shooting New Year's Day.

But Cape Girardeau City Council members say there is little they can do since the club doesn't sell liquor and as a result doesn't operate with a liquor license.

The shooting outside the club at 402 Good Hope has angered and frustrated some neighbors who complain that the club attracts drunken patrons who too often disturb the peace and spark violence.

The subject is expected to come up at Monday's meeting of the city council.

Some neighbors wish they didn't have to ask the city council for help. They want club owner Patrick Buck to close the business voluntarily.

When he opened, Buck publicly promised to shut down the Taste if incidents of violence were to occur. "If we come to the point to where we have problems outside, we will shut down immediately," he told a Southeast Missourian reporter in October.

But hours after the shooting, Buck said he won't close the business.

"I can't control who is sitting in a car with a pistol," he said as he stood outside the building Thursday afternoon, its entrance fenced off with yellow and black police crime tape and guarded by several police officers.

Buck said it's wrong to blame the club, a popular gathering place for the region's black residents, for the deadly crime.

Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson said Thursday the City Council can't prevent Buck from operating the club, which does not serve liquor. Patrons 18 and older are charged $3 apiece to enter the club. Inside are pool tables, a dart board and electronic games.

Some residents have suggested the council rezone the commercial site as residential to force the club to close.

But Councilman Charlie Herbst, a former police officer who used to patrol the Good Hope Street neighborhood, said the council can't rezone the property to eliminate an existing business.

He said the only solution may be to put more officers on patrol in that neighborhood. But that would be difficult when the police department is already short of officers, Herbst said.

"It is a terrible tragedy," Knudtson said, adding that the council will ask for a full report from the police chief.

Knudtson said he thought Buck had "demonstrated a willingness to work with neighbors and work with police" to prevent peace disturbances at the club.

That's no consolation to Kim Dodson and Chris Stiles, who live at 302 Good Hope. "We would like it to close permanently," Dodson said.

Stiles said many of the club's patrons congregate outside in the early morning hours. The club typically opens at 1:30 a.m. on weekends and holidays after the bars have closed.

Many of the club's customers are drunk when they show up, Stiles said. "I haven't had a good night's sleep since it opened."

Buck began operating the club in October, more than two years after the council pulled the Taste's liquor license because of continuing violent incidents inside and outside the lounge (see graphic). Buck said he and his staff routinely confiscate liquor that patrons try to bring into the place. Thursday morning, a trash can outside the club was full of liquor containers.

The Taste has a long history of violence. Michael Pryor of Cape Girardeau operated the Taste Lounge for 11 years until June 2001 when the City Council, frustrated by continuing complaints of fights, assaults and peace disturbances, refused to renew the liquor license.

A June 1999 melee a block from the bar injured police and Taste customers and stirred up racial issues that drew national attention from Time magazine.

Former police chief Rick Hetzel repeatedly called for its closure when he headed the department. He said his officers were repeatedly called to the Taste. From July 2000 to March 7, 2001, police responded to 30 fights, assaults, peace disturbances and other violations.

335-6611, extension 123

Timeline - Trouble at the Taste

1995: Outside the Taste Lounge at 402 Good Hope, a 29-year-old man who had been pestering people for drugs was shot and killed by a drunken patron. After he fired the .22-caliber handgun, friends took the weapon away and added it to a pile of other guns in the grass that had been confiscated from Taste patrons.

June 1999: An altercation between a motorist and a Cape Girardeau police officer led to a melee on Good Hope as people were leaving the Taste nightclub. The incident sparked racial tensions.

September 2000: A man was stabbed at the Taste Lounge by another man after the two quarreled over a game of dominoes.

October 2000: A 19-year-old Cape Girardeau man was shot and killed following an argument at Indian Park that grew out of a stabbing a month earlier at the Taste.

June 2001: Cape Girardeau City Council refused to renew the Taste Lounge's liquor license. The building's owner, Michael Pryor, had operated the bar for 11 years.

September 2001: City council refused to grant a liquor license to Sheila Brown for a new bar in the former Taste Lounge building.

October 2003: Patrick Buck of Cape Girardeau leases the Taste building from owner Michael Pryor and opens an after-hours club. The business, called the Taste, does not require a liquor license. No alcohol is sold.

Jan. 1, 2004: Anton Shamon Miller, 25, of Cape Girardeau is fatally shot outside the Taste.

-- Southeast Missourian

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