The Boston Licensing Board decides Thursday whether to order a rollback in hours for Venu, a Warrenton Street club that already had a long list of complaints against it when a man police say was a patron got a gun and started blasting away at two gang rivals down the street.
Samuel Higginbottom, 23, was arrested last week on charges he shot four people on Warranton Street on Nov. 18. At a licensing board hearing today, police said his intended targets were two men standing down Warrenton from the club, not the two clubgoers he also plugged as he fired eight rounds.
Police also said Higginbottom punched a club bartender in an earlier incident inside Venu on October 28. Club officials said they did not realize Higginbottom was at the center of that melee - which broke out during a birthday party for him - until they saw a wanted poster for the Nov. 18 shootings - and that if they had known he was involved in the earlier incident, they never would have admitted that night.
Det. Michael Talbot told the board that Higginbottom appeared to have left the club and walked to Stuart Street shortly before 2 a.m. when he turned around and walked down Warrenton on the side across from Venu, when he spotted the guys with whom he was feuding. Higginbottom apparently went to a car, where he got a jacket and a gun, Talbot said. At 1:59, he opened fire in front of a parking lot about 85 yards down the street from Venu, hitting his two alleged rivals and two other people who had nothing to do with the beef.
Talbot said police on scene actually stopped Higginbottom within two minutes of the shooting, but with no evidence - police say he quickly ditched the gun in some bushes at a nearby dog park - they had to let him go. He added police believe Higginbottom was the sole shooter. A Suffolk County grand jury is currently investigating the incident as well - one of the victims attended the licensing hearing, but at the request of the district attorney's office, declined to testify.
Talbot said Venu was very helpful in the investigation - it provided photos of clubgoers' licenses as well as video and photos that helped lead police to Higginbottom.
Club manager Tom Montgomery, a retired BPD detective, said there were no problems inside the club that night, that the club did everything it could to ensure a safe environment inside - all clubgoers, including Higginbottom, had their licenses scanned, were patted down and swept with metal-detecting wands - and that it would be unfair to blame them for one man's actions once he'd left the club.
Club attorney Walter Prince compared the November incident to the 2009 Craigslist Killer murder at the Marriott in Copley Square, and said that if the hotel didn't have its hours curtailed after that, then neither should Venu.
Sharuck Reza, another manager, said more than 200 people rely either directly or indirectly on the club for employment and that forcing the club to close earlier than its current 2 a.m. would effectively put it out of business and them out of jobs.
Reza added, after prompting from board Chairwoman Nicole Murati Ferrer, that the club would immediately stop letting customers ordering bottles for a table take the bottles onto the dance floor. One of the photos provided by the club to police showed Higginbottom and pals doing that, in violation of city liquor regulations.
Police described a chaotic scene with hundreds of people from both Venu and nearby clubs emptying out onto a Warrenton clogged with cars - just as other officers nearby were stopping a woman in a car for possession of an illegal gun.
A-1 Sgt. Michael Coyne said that one of the first things that struck him when he got out of a cruiser at the scene was the heavy smell of gunpowder.
A-1 Capt. Bernard O'Rourke said eight officers and two supervisors were already in the area, part of a closing-hour detail funded by Theater District clubs. At the height of the police response to the shootings, 25 officers from A-1, the South End and East Boston were on scene, he said.
"We've had our share of trouble up there," A-1 Sgt. Adam Mazzola said. Mazzola added that if it were up to him, parking would be banned on Warrenton in the early morning - he said the crowding made it difficult for ambulances to get to the victims.