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Baltimore Co. police to meet with businesses after Towson melee

ShootingsColleges and UniversitiesMedia IndustryBusinessKevin KamenetzDavid Marks

The Recher Theatre in Towson could face a liquor board hearing on its weekend event that drew an unruly crowd of 2,500 people, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said today.

County police believe the theater subcontracted out promotion and management of the event to a third party, he said during a news conference this morning.

“And I’ve got a real problem with someone who does that,” Kamenetz said, adding that Police Chief James W. Johnson would forward information to the county liquor board if he deems it appropriate. Liquor license holders “can’t just assume that their responsibility ends at their doorway,” Kamenetz said.

Police used K9 teams to respond to the crowds that jammed York Road and other streets early Sunday, and arrested seven people, including three men who were charged with assaulting police officers. One man was shot, police said, but no one has been arrested in that incident.

Theater owner Brian Recher declined to comment today. 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 that no incidents occurred inside the building.

Johnson, who also attended the news conference, declined to name the promoter, but said the event was advertised on social media, which was “instrumental” in drawing such a large crowd.

Police said Monday that the melee erupted early Sunday after a fraternal organization rented the Recher Theatre for a charitable event and an overflow crowd forced the theater to close its doors, leaving hundreds of people outside. Seven people were arrested, but the shooting suspect was still being sought.

Recher said the event featured a DJ, and patrons brought clothing to be donated to Goodwill, he said.

This was the third event the theater had done with Theta Mu Mu members in the past few years, Recher said. "They're very professional, great guys, and they just don't know how it blew up," he said.

The violence came just a month after police officials met with business and officials from Towson University and Goucher College to discuss crowd control in York Road bars and restaurants, where students often congregate and where underage drinking has been a concern.

County Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican whose district includes Towson, said he wants to work with business owners to explore the possibility of a downtown improvement association that could hire extra security. "It doesn't hurt to have an extra set of eyes and ears," he said.

But Marks and other local officials characterized the crowd problem early Sunday as an isolated incident.

Marks said he was frustrated because the county and the Towson Chamber of Commerce have worked to encourage people to visit downtown Towson. For instance, a block-party series called Feet on the Street has drawn people downtown on Friday nights, and the Towson City Center, a redeveloped office building, recently opened, he said.

"I don't want people to be discouraged from patronizing our businesses," Marks said. "You have all these good things occurring ... and I don't want one bad incident to blunt the momentum we see in Towson."

Police Chief James W. Johnson plans to meet with the owner of the Recher Theatre, other business owners, the county liquor board and the local Chamber of Commerce, police said.

According to its website, the Theta Mu Mu chapter was founded in Baltimore County in 2008. The organization takes part in community service activities such as food drives, reading programs and helping displaced families and single parents. The organization is a "grad chapter" for people who are out of college.

Theta Mu Mu chapter leader Jeff Givens referred questions to Christopher Cooper, the international organization's general counsel. Cooper said he was still gathering information about the incident and did not have enough details to comment on it.

Police said they were inundated by calls after an estimated 2,500 people gathered early Sunday along Shealy Avenue near the theater.

Shortly after the crowds dispersed, a 20-year-old man told police he had been shot and was taken to a local hospital. Police said he was not a college student but went to Towson to go to an event at the theater. He was not identified.

According to police, the shooting victim said he was walking back to his car parked at the Towson Town Center garage when a dark-colored car pulled up beside him and someone fired several shots at him. The shooter fled in the car.

In other incidents that night, police charged Junior Ramsey, 23, of Hyattsville, and Steven Daniels, 25, and Dimante Fox, 19, both from Baltimore, with second-degree assault on a law enforcement officer and related charges.

Chad Schultz, 24, of Timonium, was charged with disorderly conduct and related charges; Benjamin Aduna, 21, of Baltimore was charged with resisting arrest and related charges. Two others were charged on criminal citations for disorderly conduct and failure to obey a lawful order.

Police had said the theater overbooked the show, but Recher disputed that. People paid at the door, he said, and the venue closed its doors when it had reached its capacity of 630 people.

"We've done everything aboveboard," he said.

Recher said he thinks some people publicized the show through social media and "word of mouth."

"It blew up, and a million people showed up," he said.

There were no incidents inside the theater Saturday, Recher said, adding that it hosted several events that day. "Everybody was having fun inside," he said.

Local Goodwill officials said they were not aware of the Theta Mu Mu event and no one had coordinated with them for a clothing drive at the theater.

Although Towson University celebrated homecoming over the weekend, Gay Pinder, a university spokeswoman, said the problems in town did not have anything to do with the school. She said none of the people arrested were Towson students.

She added that the university "has consistently partnered with the Towson community to ensure our students' safety in and outside of the campus boundaries. We're always concerned with the safety of our students."

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, called the violence "an isolated event."

In August, the chamber took part in a forum with police, Towson bar owners and local college administrators to discuss issues such as crowd control and underage drinking, she said.

"Our Police Department has made some really great changes where they've moved some police officers to later in the evening when bars are closing and there's more activity," she said. "And we really have not had many problems until, unfortunately, Saturday night."

The Towson precinct commander, Capt. Jonathan Trentzsch, told the Towson Times after the August meeting that the department's concerns were underage drinking and crowds. "We're trying to get a handle on that," he told the newspaper.

Trentzsch was not available for comment Monday.

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