CHESTER -- The Chester County sheriff is trying to shut down the nightclub where a 23-year-old woman was shot in the face on New Year's Eve.
Sheriff Robby Benson said 321 Sportsbar on Columbia Street is a nuisance, with officers frequently responding to violence and fighting and continuously having to show up to clear the parking lot at closing time on weekends.
"Every night that place is open, when they have a crowd, it's costing taxpayers to send deputies down to clean up," he said. "That's not fair to the taxpayers of this county."
Officers reported more than 20 incidents in and outside the bar in 2007. Incidents included multiple assaults and several shootings, as well as smaller violations such as disorderly conduct and larceny from vehicles. Those numbers do not include drinking citations, which are filed separately. In the New Year's Eve shooting, police say Jessica Ryan Jones was shot in the face around 11:30 p.m. while sitting on a couch inside the club. She was flown to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where she was treated and released. No one else was hurt and no arrests have been made.
The State Law Enforcement Division issued two citations for violations of the club's alcoholic beverage license in 2007, according to records from the state Department of Revenue. One was for allowing a nonmember to drink there and the other for permitting the consumption of alcohol during restricted hours.
Maurice Obley, 321's manager, said the bar's troubles are not entirely his fault. Obley expressed frustration with the sheriff's department for not allowing him to hire off-duty officers to work security, which he said would solve some of the problems.
"If we had those officers out there in the parking lot, people would get in their cars and leave," he said.
Benson said allowing officers to work security at alcoholic establishments creates a liability issue. For example, if someone left the bar drunk and died in a car accident, the sheriff's office could be held responsible for not preventing it, he said.
As for other security at 321 Sportsbar, Obley said patrons must be 21 to enter and are patted down at the door. Five security guards are stationed at the doors and inside the club.
"All we can do is basically more or less a lot of the same stuff that we've been doing," Obley said. "We don't have any problems on the inside; it's always something in the parking lot."
But Scott Thompson, a detective with the sheriff's office, doesn't buy that argument.
"If the club wasn't there, we wouldn't have 500 people in the parking lot," he said. "They're not coming there to hang out in a closed store's parking lot. They're coming there to go to the club. And so it's not uncommon for a dispute to start inside the club and be taken outside."
Benson has contacted SLED, the solicitor's office and the county attorney seeking help to shut down the bar.
The county might be able to close the bar if it is determined to be a public nuisance. The Chester County Council will discuss legal matters related to the sheriff's office in closed session Monday, according to the agenda for the meeting. But county attorney Joanie Winters would not say whether the matters involve the sportsbar.