Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz blamed the Recher Theatre on Tuesday for a weekend event that drew unruly crowds to downtown Towson, where several police officers were injured and one man was shot.
County police believe an event promoter directed patrons to the Recher after events in other counties fell through, which caused an unmanageable crowd to form after the theater reached capacity.
Kamenetz said liquor license holders "can't just assume that their responsibility ends at their doorway," and criticized the Recher's management for using the outside promoter, who has not been identified.
"I've got a real problem with someone who does that," Kamenetz said.
Police began receiving calls to the Recher Theatre on York Road late Saturday night, as a fraternal organization was holding a charitable event. The theater had closed its doors, leaving crowds of people outside.
Officers from multiple county precincts, along with state police, were called to downtown Towson to clear a crowd estimated at 2,500.
Police Chief James W. Johnson, who spoke alongside Kamenetz at a news conference held to discuss winter preparedness, declined to name the promoter of the event. He said the event was advertised on social media, which was "instrumental" in drawing such a large crowd.
Shari Williams, a Towson University senior said she had planned to go to the Recher, but the line was too long and people weren't being let inside.
After waiting to see if she and her friends could get in, they opted to go inside the Rec Room bar next door. When they left, she said, she saw fights involving officers and members of the crowd.
"At the time, it was OK. People were just socializing," she said, but as police attempted to get people to leave the area, "it started getting a little more rowdy."
"I think it was just a thing where the police officers got frustrated. After a while, they were tired of people not moving, not budging," she said.
Theater owner Brian Recher declined to comment Tuesday. He has previously said the establishment closed its doors when the event sponsored by the Theta Mu Mu fraternity, a Baltimore County chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, reached the theater's capacity of 630 people.
He has also said no incidents occurred inside the building.
Christopher M. Cooper, with the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., which has chapters around the world, said the event at the Recher was a fundraiser to collect clothing donations as well as a social event. While he could not comment on the specifics of the local chapter event, he said, "It's an outstanding chapter. They do a lot of good community work in the area.
"We can only be responsible for our people, the guests, and the venues," Cooper said of the unruly crowd. "From all indications, [neither] the frat nor their guests were involved in inappropriate activity."
Williams, the Towson student, said this is the first year it was held at the theater but that many people had heard about through word of mouth and that some had tweeted about it.
Although a Towson University spokeswoman said Monday the school did not have any ties to the event, Williams described it as an annual party held during the school's homecoming weekend. She said however, students from multiple universities in the area attended.
Investigators believe that the promoter was managing events in other counties that didn't happen, so the promoter "funneled interest in those events to the one in Towson," police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said in an email.
In Towson, police are "sustaining a heightened presence as we thoroughly examine this incident and see what steps we need to take for the long term," Armacost said.
Last weekend, police had added six additional officers to help with downtown activity during Towson University's homecoming, Armacost said. Extra patrols are deployed every weekend through the fall, she said.
The county liquor board will likely decide by the end of the week whether it will schedule a hearing on the matter, said Mike Mohler, the board's chief administrator, adding that the board was waiting for police reports.
Mohler said he had met with Recher last Wednesday to discuss "general crowd control issues" following fights at the venue in August. Recher had requested the meeting, Mohler said.
According to police records on file with the liquor board, officers were dispatched to the Rec Room — a bar next door to the theater owned by the same company — for three calls for fights within a half-hour on Aug. 22. A large crowd gathered on the streets and parking lots surrounding the bar as the fights broke out, stopping traffic on York Road, according to the police report.
"Even though college is not in session, the Rec Room continually has large and aggressive crowds particularly on Tuesday and Saturday nights, which result in physical altercations and injured people," police wrote in the August report.
Police charged seven people, including three with assault in the weekend incidents. Investigators are still looking for the shooter.
Johnson, the police chief, said that one of the people charged in the weekend violence was a college student, but said he did not know which school the person attended.
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