Club license in jeopardy after fatal Block stabbing

The fatal downtown stabbing of an exotic dancer last week began as a fight among employees inside a strip club on The Block and could place the club's liquor and adult entertainment licenses in jeopardy.

The chairman of the city's liquor board, Stephan Fogleman, said the board is exploring the incident to determine whether the club, Norma Jean's, was complying with laws and whether it allowed the incident, either willingly or through negligence, to take place.

"Anything can happen anywhere, anytime. But when you hold a license for the privilege of selling alcohol and allowing adult entertainment to occur, we hold you to a high standard," Fogleman said.

The stabbing is the most recent violent incident that has drawn the liquor board's attention. Tomorrow, the board will consider revoking the license of Suite Ultralounge, a bottle club in the basement of the Belvedere Hotel, outside of which two people were shot and a third stabbed last month.

Peter W. Ireland, Norma Jean's owner and a fixture on The Block, said his Custom House Avenue club has taken great steps to improve its security, with surveillance cameras inside and outside as well as four bouncers who check guests for weapons and do not allow anyone under age 21 inside. He said he has not heard from investigators and has been cooperating with police.

"We well-protect our inside," Ireland said. "When things spill outside or happen on the streets, we can't 100 percent protect it, but we will stop arguments, whatever we can do. Sometimes things happen so fast, and it's not easy to stop somebody that's swinging a knife or a gun."

Three years ago, Ireland was at the center of a controversy involving the liquor board. He filed a complaint claiming his club was being harassed by the board's then-chief inspector, Samuel T. Daniels Jr. Daniels had publicly accused some liquor license commissioners of conspiring to protect some club owners, including Ireland, from sanctions.

That issue drew attention to his generous contributions to local politicians. Ireland was fined in 2005 for exceeding contribution limits, though records show his company has made just one contribution since then, giving $2,000 to Mayor Sheila Dixon in 2007.

The Block, the city's hub of adult bookstores and strip clubs in the 400 block of E. Baltimore St., is well-known for problems with prostitution and drug dealing. But incidents of violence are relatively rare.

According to charging documents, a fight began inside Norma Jean's about 1:50 a.m. Friday and spilled outside between the club and the neighboring Glass Slipper.

Shontey Lane, 22, was arguing with a group of women that included 27-year-old Takira Leray Johnson-Bey. Lane is accused of stabbing Johnson-Bey in the abdomen. She was pronounced dead at 2:45 a.m. at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Police said staff monitoring crime cameras watched the attack as it occurred and sent officers to the victim and a fleeing suspect. A second woman was hospitalized with injuries described yesterday as critical.

Ireland said that only the victim was an employee of his club. He said he had been told that Johnson-Bey was leaving work when she observed an argument and came back toward the club to see what was going on.

Police, however, maintain that all three women were employees of the club and that the incident began inside.

Ireland said he was assisting Johnson-Bey's family with her funeral. "It's a shame that things happen like that," Ireland said. "I'm not happy with it, and it's very upsetting."