Court ruling shows city made E2 club owners scapegoats, their lawyers say
BY MAUDLYNE IHEJIRIKA Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org November 17, 2011 2:50PM
The owners of the E2 nightclub, Calvin Hollins (left) and Dwayne Kyles leave a news conference about their conviction were thrown out by the courts. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: December 19, 2011 8:18AM
Lawyers for the owners of the E2 nightclub said Thursday that a state appeals court decision backs up their long-standing assertion that they were made scapegoats to divert attention from the city’s own disastrous response to the tragedy.
“If you’re the one at fault, then the easiest thing to do is to point the finger at someone else,” one of their lawyers, Victor P. Henderson, said at a news conference at Henderson, Adam, LLC.
“In order to take the spotlight off what the police department and fire department did or did not do, it was very easy to point the spotlight on these two gentlemen,” Henderson charged.
The appellate court Wednesday threw out the convictions and jail sentences for Dwain Kyles and Calvin Hollins, owners of the nightclub where 21 people died in 2003.
While primarily allowing their lawyers to speak for them, Kyles and Hollins expressed relief but continuing regret for the victims who they say now deserve justice by having the dozens of civil death and injury suits later filed and long delayed come to a conclusion.
“It is very clear that we were accused of doing things that simply had no relationship to those deaths that occurred. And that tragedy has been a tearing, searing hole in our hearts from the day it happened,” said Kyles, a lawyer and businessman who has long maintained lives could have been saved had fire and police officers responded quicker to rescue people visibly piled up at the door.
He and Hollins hope now to proceed with their civil suit — filed in 2008 but like victims’ lawsuits, stalled during the appeal — accusing the city of conspiracy, malicious prosecution and coercion.
“Surveillance footage shows that there were 45 minutes during which police and fire officers stood outside instead of coming in to help. They sent 20 police cars and only two ambulances and stood around and watched as these 21 people died,” their lawyer in that civil suit, Ed Grasse, said. “Then they turned around and blamed Calvin and Dwain. This has just been an elaborate cover-up.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to comment on the pair’s charges that the city had pursued a “malicious prosecution” to find a scapegoat for the tragedy and mask the city’s own bureaucratic bungling. “I talked to the corporation counsel this morning, and they’re looking into the judge’s ruling at this point,” Emanuel said when asked whether the city planned to appeal the ruling.
When asked why not just drop the case, the mayor said, “The answer is the same.”
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton was similarly noncommittal as he left the mayor’s office. “I don’t think a decision’s been made on that yet,” Patton said of whether the city would appeal.
On the night of Feb. 17, 2003, a security guard used pepper spray after a fight broke out in the crowded nightclub of the popular venue and eatery at 23rd and Michigan, triggering a rush from the second floor in which 21 people were crushed to death and dozens injured, authorities have said. As the public demanded answers in the wake of the tragedy, the city charged the two owners with involuntary manslaughter, and criminal contempt. It claimed their failure to follow a Housing Court order to close the second floor earlier cited for structural problems indirectly led to the deaths.
“I had three children working there that night, and I would never have put my children in harm’s way, nor would have Dwain or anyone else,” said Hollins, who has long maintained the court order pertained to the mezzanine and VIP section, not the nightclub. The appellate court agreed that the city’s order was unclear and further said the city failed to explain how the violations led to the deaths and injuries.
“We are two men who are very humbled by this process,” said Hollins, who was acquitted of the criminal charges in 2007. The city dropped the same charges against Kyles in 2008.
But in 2009, a jury found the businessmen guilty of the criminal contempt charges, and a Housing Court judge sentenced each to two years in prison. They’d been free on appeal.
“The appellate court, after reviewing all of the evidence from the trial court case, has ruled that what transpired in terms of the building code violations was not what caused this tragedy, and has drawn the conclusion that Mr. Kyles and Mr. Hollins were not at fault,” Henderson said.