CHICAGO – The nightclub where 21 people died in a pre-dawn stampede had been ordered to shut down last summer because of safety violations, including failure to provide enough exits, city officials said Monday.
"The owner knows damn well that he is not to open that second floor facility," Fire Commissioner James Joyce said. City officials said criminal sanctions would be sought as early as Tuesday against those who operated the second-floor nightclub in defiance of the order.
But the city's statements were challenged within hours by an attorney for the nightclub operators. The attorney, Andre Grant, said Monday night that lawyers for both sides had agreed that only one section of the second-floor had to be closed.
"The section of the building that was not supposed to be used was not used," Grant said. He added that a written agreement with the city was reached in October and that a fresh hearing in the case was scheduled for next month.
Earlier Monday, Joyce identified the building owner as Lesly Motors Inc. He said Le Mirage Inc. held the liquor license.
In April 2002, a city complaint against the nightclub listed 11 building-code violations, ranging from failure to submit architectural plans and engineering reports to failure to provide enough exits. In a July 19 order, Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel J. Lynch barred Le Mirage Inc. from occupying the second floor.
The owners subsequently challenged the order. But in September, Lynch refused their motion and emphasized his original order telling the club to shut down.
City officials released copies of some of the court documents at an afternoon news conference Monday.
"It had a number of building and fire code violations," Joyce said. "There was shoddy rehab work that had been done, some of the stairwells were not in compliance, exit lights were not up to our standards."
Early Monday morning -- nearly seven months after the original shutdown order -- as many as 500 people were crammed into the second-floor club when someone sprayed Mace or pepper spray to quell a fight. That apparently touched off the deadly stampede.
Grant said the club had been rented to private promoters -- a firm he identified as Envy Entertainment. The promoters provided 18 security guards of their own in addition to 10 supplied by his clients, Grant said. He said it was the promoters' security guards who used the spray.
No phone number or business listing could immediately be found for Envy Entertainment.
Witnesses described a frenzied scene in the wake of the spraying: Some people were trying to climb through the ceiling while others were trampled in the frantic rush for an exit, their faces and bodies flattened against the glass front door.
Some people fainted on the club floor. Others were coughing and crying, gagging and blindly groping for any way out.
City officials could not explain why they did not know the E2 club -- which is featured in current Internet nightlife listings -- continued to operate. Joyce said fire department inspectors visited the first-floor restaurant, known as Epitome, in October, but did not visit the second-floor nightclub because they had no reason to suspect it was open.
But Grant said the city knew the club was operating.
"This is open use and the city is 100 percent aware of it and in fact management has asked consistently and repeatedly the city to assist with crowd control," he said.
Telephone calls to the office and home of James R. Hardt, an attorney representing Lesly Motors in the city proceedings, were not immediately returned Monday night.
Records in the Illinois secretary of state's office list Dwain Kyles as the owner and principal officer of Le Mirage. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, a close friend of Kyles' father, said the younger Kyles voluntarily submitted to police questioning for several hours Monday afternoon.
A telephone number for Kyles was disconnected.