Mired in debt, its license revoked, Skateworks roller rink closes

Skateworks, the roller rink in Woodlawn that has long struggled with allegations of violence and rowdiness, has closed.

The business, which opened two years ago in an industrial park off Whitehead Road, is tied up in bankruptcy proceedings, with more than $575,000 in debt, and linked to accusations that a 12-year-old girl was gang-raped there Aug. 14.

The closure follows the revocation of Skateworks' two operating licenses, a result of the arrests in August of a 24-year-old and two teenage males in the alleged assault in a storage room. Davon Perry, the eldest of the three, is scheduled for trial Jan. 11 in Baltimore County Circuit Court on a charge of first-degree rape and 28 other counts.

An investigation determined that on the night of the alleged rape, the rink's operators had only three off-duty police officers on the premises instead of the four required by an agreement with the county. It was on that basis that the permit was revoked, an act first reported by WBAL-TV.

Skateworks had been on the verge of closure in April, after police had repeatedly been forced to deal with rowdy crowds and disturbances at the rink, which was opened by a high school principal, Barney Wilson, and two partners, Carolyn Pratt and Devin Johnson, in December 2008. Wilson is no longer an owner of the rink but is listed with the others as a debtor in the bankruptcy proceedings.

Taiwo A. Agbaje, an attorney representing Skateworks in federal bankruptcy court, did not respond Tuesday to a message seeking comment. A spokesman for the county government said he had not announced the rink's closure last month because he did not want to embarrass its owners.

Almost from the start, the rink was bedeviled by problems, despite its lack of an alcohol license. Fights and arrests were a regular occurrence on Friday nights at closing time, mostly outside the rink as patrons left. Some nights, police said, hundreds of teenagers would dart across the six lanes of Security Boulevard to congregate at a bus stop. There was drug use and dealing, police said. Two men were shot in a parking lot behind the rink.

County officials eventually elicited an agreement with operators that included restricted hours and hiring off-duty police to supplement the rink's security force on weekends, and threatened closure if managers failed to abide by the restrictions.

"When all they did was roller skate, it wasn't bad," Timothy M. Kotroco, director of the county's office of permit and development management, said Tuesday. "But then it became more of an amusement hall, a nightclub. They'd have live bands and dancing."

Skateworks was the only one of five roller rinks in Baltimore County to consistently encounter law enforcement problems, Kotroco said, though he recalled a "flare-up" over a year ago at Skateland, in Perry Hall.

"When you have 700 people letting out at the same time, it becomes a problem when they leave," Kotroco said. He said traffic congestion, noise, and altercations can occur when dozens of youths congregate at convenience stores and other businesses late at night.

Two weeks after the alleged rape at Skateworks, Kotroco wrote Pratt to inform her that the rink's amusement hall and skating rink licenses were being suspended pending an investigation, primarily because of the insufficient number of officers on site and because officers were not given "full run of the facility," as the agreement had stipulated.

"Our guys were told to handle exits and entrances, and their guys were further inside," Kotroco said. "We weren't happy about it. It was almost insinuating that they were hiding something from us."

On Sept. 29, Kotroco wrote a second letter to Pratt, telling her that the county had given Skateworks a "second chance" in April and that the rink's licenses were to be revoked permanently. He said the "sexual assault incident" was the "primary catalyst" for the revocations.

The premises were padlocked by the bankruptcy trustee, Charles R. Goldstein, after county officials received word from police that Skateworks managers "were still holding some sort of activities there after we revoked" the licenses, Kotroco said.

The revocation letters and other code-enforcement documents were subpoenaed last month by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore, which is handling the case. Skateworks' bankruptcy proceedings, initially filed as a Chapter 11 reorganization, are now being handled as a Chapter 7 liquidation.

In a court filing Oct. 11, the rink's owners complained to the judge that rather than liquidating the rink's assets to pay all its creditors, the trustee surrendered the rink and its contents to the building's landlord, Jeffrey R. Foresman, who is claiming at least $136,266 in unpaid rent.

There is "substantial personal property" on the premises, the owners said, including four or five "fairly new leather sofas," disco lights, speakers, ice makers, a commercial freezer and refrigerator, a fire alarm system and hundreds of used skates. The list included the surveillance cameras that prosecutors said helped capture images of the young men accused in the Aug. 14 assault. The rink owners said the value of those assets and others amounted to $634,709, while their liabilities total $577,456.

Among the other creditors are Pratt's husband, Charles Pratt, who made a personal loan of $150,000 to the business; Joseph Haw, for a loan of $200,000; the state of Maryland, for $7,000 in employees' tax withholdings; and Southeastern Skate Supply, of Roanoke, Va., for $26,000 worth of skates.


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