Residents: Nightclub Still Troublesome

DSC01905Timothy J. Stenovec Makeba Thompson, 41, holds a photograph of her brother Devin Thompson who was fatally shot outside the Sin Sin Lounge Aug. 22.

It’s been a month since the slaying of Devin Thompson outside the Sin Sin Lounge, and speaker after speaker at the Ninth Precinct Community Council meeting tonight told the police that things aren’t getting any better.

Of the more than 150 people who attended the meeting – residents and business owners – at least 25 indicated they had come expressly to urge the police to act against continued problems with noise and fighting at Sin Sin, which is located on East Fifth Street near Second Avenue.

“They have carefully crafted a bar where anything goes,” said Bill Koehnlein, who is in his early sixties. He lives down the block from the nightclub. “They cater to people who aren’t from this neighborhood to do what they would never do in their own neighborhood.”

Many residents said that problems have persisted at the nightclub after the Aug. 22 shooting of Mr. Thompson, 43, who died of his injuries eight days later, and residents complained of issues as recently as Saturday night. The police have not made any arrests in the case but they are seeking two men for questioning.

“Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse it has,” said Eileen Costello, who also lives near the club on East Fifth Street. “The fights are frightening – it’s totally out of control and so violent that I’m even afraid to go to the window. It’s like the wild west out there.”

One of the most charged moments of the evening came during an exchange between Asia Thompson, 42, a sister of Mr. Thompson and Sin Sin’s owner, who declined to give his name but whom acquaintances identified as Philip Quilter. They were sitting just rows apart.

DSC01920Timothy J. Stenovec The Sin Sin Restaurant and Bar, 248 East Fifth Street.

“Obviously, I see that you already have this negative attention, way before my brother was killed outside your establishment,” Ms. Thompson said, her voice calm and even. “What have you done to prevent this from happening to someone else’s family?”

“We’ve put policies in place, we’ve turned around a systematic approach, changed clientele, decreased business,” the owner replied.

At one point, someone in the crowd shouted: “Are you sorry?”

“I am sorry about your brother, absolutely,” he said.

The owner said that security measures at the club have been stepped up over the past month and now include the use of handheld metal detectors.

“Maybe if you did then my brother would still be here today,” Ms. Thompson said.

“Possibly you’re right, correct.”

Many residents worried that this death is just the beginning.

“Someone’s going to get shot again,” Ms. Costello said.

Deputy Inspector Kenneth Lehr, commanding officer of the precinct, reminded community members that as long as Sin Sin has a liquor license, the club is legally allowed to operate.

“We have to work within the scope of the law,” he said. “Businesses have a right to run their businesses, but they have to run by the rules. If they’re licensed and they pass, we remind them to stay in line, be kind to their neighbors.”

Lt. Patrick Ferguson maintained that there was ongoing police presence at the nightspot.

“I’ve been to Sin Sin where I’ve had them turn on the lights, open all the doors, check the license, count the crowd,” he said. “We’ve been on the block.”

However, Inspector Lehr acknowledged that there were signs of trouble prior to the killing.

“In terms of a larger perspective, there were some warning signs,” he said. “We’ve had 2,525 noise complaints – 25 of those were attributed to Sin Sin.”

Inspector Lehr added, “If we could have predicted that someone was going to pull out a gun, shoot someone in the chest and kill them, of course we would have done something to prevent it.”

Though the focus of the evening was on Sin Sin, residents complained about problems at other East Village nightspots. Community members cited loud, live music easily heard through open windows and doors, loud bar patrons outside smoking and even theft of sidewalk plants.

Among the other East Village establishments receiving complaints at tonight’s meeting were Esperanto at 145 Avenue C, La Vie at 64 East Fifth Street and Diablo Royal Este at 508 East 12th Street.

Another resident mentioned the issue with a large gathering of NYU graduate students at Diablo this summer.

Diablo’s owner, Jason Hennings, maintained that he did not hire the party promoter and did not understand that the person organizing the event was a party planner and was also unaware of how large the crowd would be.

Inspector Lehr said the problem was corrected by police at the time, but urged the owner of Diablo to “have a little courtesy” and call the police sooner next time an unexpected crowd gathered.

Inspector Lehr said this is simply a reality of living in a neighborhood that is a nightlife hotspot.

“That’s the reality we live in,” he said. “This place is a magnet.”

Timothy J. Stenovec contributed reporting to this story.