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Theater District club: Don't blame us for patron who shot four people outside at closing

Venu manager Tom Montgomery with map showing distance between shooter and club.Venu manager Tom Montgomery with map showing distance between shooter and club.

UPDATE: Board agrees with club; issues no penalty.

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 recreates events leading to shooting based on surveillance video.

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.

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Comments

Take away Mr. Higgenbottom's right to visit the club by convicting him of a crime and putting him in jail? It doesn't sound like the club did anything wrong....he didn't bring a gun in with him, he didn't shoot anyone coming out of the club, the club didn't cover anything up, and they had a good amount of security. It's absurd that the establishment can be held accountable for an individuals actions after he has left the premises and retrieved a gun from his car. What if he had gone to 7-11 first? Would they be in front of the board? What if he stopped in the W after Venu?

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Thanks Anon. I agree. If a club follows the right steps, not to mention has a police detail on site, why is their license in jeopardy because of what their customers may do, especially if it occurs outside?

If they flaunt the rules, then slam them. But if they are really trying to follow the rules, I don't get why they're being blamed.

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I totally agree perfectly reasonable and not-at-all-connected-to-the-club anons. Why should a club be held accountable for what its patrons do? I mean, it's not doing anything that may impair their judgment or make them more aggressive and hostile than they would be in any other situation. And when are people going to realize that if a bouncer doesn't find a gun on a patron, it doesn't exist. I mean people jumped all over Plaxico Burress' case but, in the eyes of the club, that guy's a clean machine.

I just don't know why people think a club should be accountable for anything. Just have a vodka Red Bull, take this smiley face and some water and go have a good time, pal. Sheesh, so uptight.

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I haven't been to a club since 1998, but fine, clubs should be held somewhat accountable for what their patrons do. If a guy brings a gun into a club and shoots someone, the club could be at fault. If someone gets beaten to a pulp and the club did not respond properly, fine them. If a guy leaves a club after drinking (which is perfectly legal in case you forgot), goes to his car and gets a gun, then tracks someone down on the street and shoots them (along with innocent bystanders), what exactly could the club have done differently? NOT served alcohol? Known he is an aggressive drunk? Please, enlighten me.

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The boston licensing commission is salivating at taking away liquor licenses and closing bars. Now that Downtown Crossing and Chinatown are becoming (or have) gentrified, I'm sure the BLC has gotten hoards of complaints from all those rich folks who bought those over priced condos in the Ritz, W, and Archstone. And of course Menino, who wants to keep his rich residents happy, does something about it.

WBZ even did a story about noise in this area and how the residents were complaining about it. (okay ONE resident in the ritz.. but I am sure there have been others)

I swear if Menino could push all the nightclubs out of the city, he would. IMHO I think more bars have CLOSED in the past 20 years (under his watch) than have opened. Its a sad state that a "world class city", like boston, has such a pitiful nightlife scene.

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The number of liquor licenses in Boston has actually increased under Menino (thanks to the mighty efforts of convicted felon Dianne Wilkerson) and they remain incredibly hard - and expensive - to get.

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However, licenses can be given to restaurants too. MOre restaurants have opened.. I'll give you that. :)

But bar bars.. I believe have closed.

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From everything I have seen and heard the entire thing is just ridiculous. The suspect has been arrested on 26 other occasions. The club has no way of knowing the criminal history of anyone entering the premises. They have obviously taken every precaution to ensure the safety of the patrons. The incident happened after hours outside the premises and with 8 police officers and 4 cruisers in the area. The blatant disregard for human life by this convicted criminal is obvious from his brazen act.

This is why the mayor immediately pointed the finger at the club and why the club is being targeted by hos political machine. The public wants real hearings to hold responsible the judges and political officials who would let a convicted criminal roam the streets free. These political fat cats who cover each others' backs and get re-elected term after term by manipulating the system need to know that the public is on to them.

Hopefully the board will have the sense and decency to do the right thing and protect the jobs of all the hard working people who come together to bring a few hours of entertainment for the youth of our city.

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where's the pix of Nicole?

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Milton Wright makes a point as Ferrer and Suzanne Ianella listen (note: Wright is not an ex-NBA player; his hair only looks dyed yellow because of the lighting in the room, my camera's white balance and, maybe, reflection off the yellow fringe on the flag behind him).

What? You didn't want to see Wright and Ianella?

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Damn she's cute. I have to go to one of these hearings. Thank you!

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I have a posse!

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No pun intended.

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