In a time when bouncers are allegedly murderers and clubs are scary drug-and-death dens, the media are quick to jump on a clubs-are-bad story—like the July 13 shooting of two women at Crobar.
Angelita Dunkley and Antoinette Bryan, two friends who both work for an insurance company, were standing near the bar on the dancefloor when they were struck by the same bullet, according to police. The tabloids immediately played it as another example of the evils of nightlife, but unlike other infamous club shootings (think Puffy and J.Lo at Club New York), there was no ruckus, no melee, no mass panic.
Indeed, Eric Soler, the promoter of Crobar’s Thursdays Afterwork party, was three feet away from Dunkley and Bryan when the incident happened. He described the gunshot as sounding “like a glass bottle dropping.” He added: “There was no argument or fight. It wasn’t a commotion at all.”
James Goll—vice president of Berk Communications, Crobar’s publicity company—adds that the club’s security video doesn’t show any undue excitement or erratic behavior on the dancefloor: “It doesn’t show them doing anything but when they are walking out.”
“There was no fight,” agrees the two victims’ newly retained lawyer, Fred Brown of Leeds, Morelli & Brown. “Nothing. They were just innocent bystanders.” He says the two women are “recovering emotionally and physically. They are irreparably damaged and trying to heal right now. . . . We’re conducting an investigation and bringing legal action.”
The lack of frantic activity before, during, or after the shooting—coupled with a statement, made by Crobar employee Alex Orlovsky on a clubplanet.com message board, that a “cell phone gun” accidentally went off in one of the women’s pockets—has led to industry speculation as to whether there was a gunman at all. “It was not, per se, an official statement,” Goll says of Orlovsky’s post. “It was put up the next day because people were worried about it, and that was put out to acknowledge something happened, and we were looking into it. The cell phone gun theory is only an assumption.”
Of course, it’s in Crobar’s best interest to have the incident depicted as an accident. “I’d love to tell you it was a cell phone gun,” Goll said. “Even though it’s awful they exist. It’s less scary than ‘Shots rang out!’ . . . It’s an ongoing investigation. There was no slug found, no gun found.”
Crazy as it sounds, a cell phone gun does actually exist. (A video of one can be found at www.mobidirect.com/cellgun .mpg.) The NYPD issued an alert on the weapons in May—they’ve already made the rounds in the European underworld, though they’re not yet popular in the States. They look like regular phones, but when certain numbers are pressed, can fire four rounds of .22-caliber bullets— possibly the same kind of bullet still lodged in Dunkley’s leg. Brown says they’re uncertain whether it’s a .22 or .25 round.
Soler thinks the victims had a weapon. “I think they dropped it,” he says. “And the police thought so as well. I went to the window just above the entrance and listened to them after talking to the girls. I heard them say that about the girls and nothing much more. They thought that at the moment.”
“No arrest has been made,” says NYPD spokesperson John Kelly, declining further comment. “The matter is still under investigation.”
The victims’ lawyer, Brown, refutes the idea that the girls accidentally shot themselves. “This is as crazy as it gets. The girls did not shoot themselves. We intend to look into the facts to see if the club has a long history of violence. There is no truth to that theory at all. I think it’s so outlandish. Nobody could believe it, that these ladies shot themselves.”
Some are wondering how an incident like this happened at upscale Crobar at all. “I was very surprised that there was any kind of gun inside the club, as the security is very thorough,” e-mails Chi Chi Valenti, who has a weekly Saturday party there. Even Dunkley’s roommate, who only gave her name as Zira, says, “I was really surprised that that happened at Crobar. I used to go there every week.”
Soler—who’s moved the party to Pacha in the aftermath—says Crobar did a check for weapons, but Brown says while the club security checked his clients’ purses, there was no metal detector.
There is also some confusion as to when the women noticed they were shot. Both the New York Post and the Daily News ran July 15 articles stating the victims were on the dancefloor and clearly heard and felt the gunshot instantly. “I knew it was a bullet,” Dunkley told the Post; “Nobody believed us,” Bryan added. But a day earlier, TV station WABC reported, “They didn’t realize they were hit until they went to a second-floor coatroom and saw they were struck.” The police confirm that account—a spokesperson says the women “were standing at the bar, and supposedly say they heard a loud sound. The two victims went to the second floor, when they realized they were shot.”
“The real fact is that a bouncer from Crobar pointed out to them that she was bleeding, and the other one was bleeding,” Goll says. “The girls didn’t even know, and Crobar actually called an EMT.”
Brown states the women knew immediately they were shot, and that blood was “gushing everywhere. They went to seek help. They were hysterical. The police and ambulance finally came a half-hour after asking Crobar to help. It took a while to find someone to help them. If you were hit by a bullet, you’d know you were hit.”
When we finally reached Dunkley on the phone, she first accused us of being affiliated with Crobar, then said, “Call us back if you want to pay us. We do it for a fee.” Then she hung up.
In less violent club news, there was a dance-off in front of Mayor Bloomberg‘s house this weekend. A few hundred people hula-hooped and danced in a drum circle, while a couple girls even practiced ballet positions, using the barricade as a bar. It was all in protest of our city’s draconian, patently ridiculous cabaret law, which requires that venues get a license to allow dancing. Organizers wore bright-pink T-shirts emblazoned with “Dancing is not a crime” and proceeded to boogie.
The new momentum was spurred by the formation of Metropolis in Motion, a new group started two months ago in response to the defeat of Norman Siegel and Paul Chevigny’s lawsuit against the city on behalf of dancers. They filed an appeal; Siegel says it will be argued before the court this fall.
In a time of club shootings and allegedly murderous bouncers, the cabaret law seems like a trivial matter. “So many of my friends think it’s not as important as we think it is,” Siegel says. “We have to persuade them. It’s symbolic of this repressive climate post–9-11. See how many cops are here? [Fly Life counted more than 15 officers in the immediate area.] The government is so afraid of people wiggling their bodies to music. We gotta change it, once and for all.”