By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The staff at Mr. Black, a gay dance club located on Broadway and Bleecker, spent Labor Day weekend in lockdown, where well-known DJ Sammy Jo of Scissor Sisters fame shared cell space with alleged "Hotel Murderer" Clarence Dean, while some of the club's better-known charactersthe Ass and Mini-Assmeasured out the hours the next cell over.
Seventeen Mr. Black employees were arrested during a 4 a.m. Saturday-morning raid conducted by a small army of police25 to 40 strong, according to one eyewitness (including a few undercovers in drag)from the Manhattan South narcotics squad.
Some people managed to slip out, including nightlife fixtures like bartender and performer Ladyfag and the head of Mr. Black himself (Stuart Armando, one of the owners)but the Ass, a/k/a Luke Nero, a cocktail waiter who goes bottomless, and go-go boy Chase Hostler (a/k/a Mini-Ass) were arrested, along with 15 patrons, two of whom were charged with selling drugs, including four sales of cocaine and one of crack. One employee of the club, Anthony Giordimaina, was charged with a misdemeanor: criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree (he allegedly had marijuana and four bags of coke in his pants pocket).
The raid on Mr. Black came on the heels of two other recent club busts: one at the Box on August 23, and another at the Cock a week later. But the Box and Cock raids were routine visits from the MARCH (Multi-Agency Response to City Hotspots) task force, a combination of city agencies that includes representatives from the State Liquor Authority and the building, police, and fire departments. Though these visits involve 20 or 30 agents, they are usually looking for less serious violations. The Box's owners say that there was a clerical error on their food-handling paperwork, and Allan Persiflage, the owner of the Cock, says that he was cited for contaminated ice, the absence of signs instructing employees to wash their hands in the bathroom, and a loose electricity box. His door person was also cited for not having a security license.
Armando says that he can't comment on the Mr. Black raid until September 20, when the case goes before the judge. He says that although the club remains closed, the cafe upstairs was allowed to reopen. "The reason the club is still closed is because of the evidence of rampant drug activity there. And we believe the judge ordered the club to remain closed because of the merits of our case. We have a strong case, and we believe the court agreed with us that we do," says NYPD spokesman and assistant chief Michael Collins.
On the morning of the raid, after police pushed past Connie Girl, who works at the door, they reportedly asked, "Who's the DJ?" When Scissor Sisters DJ Sammy Jo identified himself, he was cuffed. His friend Jean Von Baden, a DJ visiting from Denmark and in town on holiday, was also arrested.
Nero says that he wasn't read his rights or told why he was being arrested; he also says that he didn't hear the police read anyone their rights. Sonny Shirley, an employee, says in an e-mail: "I asked the officers outside why we are being arrested and was finally told, 'You don't have any rights, shut the fuck up.'"
Several employees say they saw the cops high-fiving each other as they were cuffing club patrons and employees. "The officers were giving high fives to each other in the bar while we were standing with our hands up as some of our people were being taken away," says Ladyfag. "It was just insensitive and unnecessary." Roze Ibraheem, the head of Mr. Black's security, says that police at the station referred to transgendered doorgirl Connie Girl as "it" and "that" and that "other derogatory anti-gay statements were made." Ibraheem says that at the club, police told the crowd of about 115 people: "Sorry, homos, you're gonna have to find somewhere else to go hang out," and that one employee was referred to as a "fairy" in passing.
Police spokesman Collins tells the Voice that "all the arrests were made under the direct supervision of the department's legal division and supervisors from both the narcotics division and the vice enforcement division. Those supervisors and attorneys report that they witnessed no inappropriate actions on the part of the officers."
Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne adds: "If individuals claim officers used inappropriate language, they have the option of filing a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board for an independent investigation of the allegations."
During booking, many of the employees were strip-searched and made to do the "cough and squat." Some, including Nero, say that Sammy Jo shared a cell with the man they later realized was Clarence Dean, who'd been arrested on September 1 for the murder of a woman whose nude body was found in a Times Square hotel.
Mr. Black employees don't deny that drugs can get inside the club; but they do deny that they aid or abet it, and they say they certainly don't sell it. "Bad things can happen anywhere. We're a nightclub; we're not having high tea. There are people who do drugs and get drunk," says Ladyfag. "But this was like we were criminals. You just got the feeling like this is what it must have been like: We're gay and we're being attacked." Initially, the Mr. Black staff members were going to be charged with criminal nuisance, says Collins. In the end, only one employee, Giordimaina, was charged with a crime. (His misdemeanor possession charge is pending.) The rest were released, but not before they spent 34 hours in the slammer.