UPDATE: Peppers Nightclub shooting upgraded to homicide as owner faces injunction

Homicide comes less than a week ahead of legal effort to shut down business
Tuesday, November 1, 2011 | 9:30 a.m. CDT; updated 8:34 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, November 2, 2011

*UPDATE: This article has been updated to reflect that the shooting victim, Tevin Nelson, died. The shooting is now classified as a homicide.

COLUMBIA — Detective Tom O'Sullivan would be a happy man if he never had to deal with Peppers Nightclub ever again.

*O'Sullivan works in the Boone County Sheriff's Department, which was called to the north Columbia nightclub around 3:40 a.m. Sunday in response to shots fired. A 21-year-old man, Tevin Johnson, had been shot in the head. He died late Monday, and police are now treating the case as a homicide.

The shooting is the latest in a series of crimes that have led to an injunction that might shut down Peppers for a year, if not permanently.

A 22-year-old woman was also shot in the arm. Her name has been withheld for her safety, but she was released from the hospital.

"Unfortunately, this is just the 10th verse of the same song that's been going on for a number of years," O'Sullivan said.

O'Sullivan wasn't able to say exactly what happened; he and the department are investigating every lead they can get. As of late Monday, the department had identified a number of people it believes are possibly involved in the shooting.

Part of the problem is that witnesses aren't cooperating. When police arrivedSunday at Peppers, there were quite a few people milling around, O'Sullivan said, but by that time a lot of people who had witnessed the shooting had already left.

Those who have talked to detectives say they don't know what happened. Or they say they didn't see anything. Or they just outright lie, O'Sullivan said.

The type of people who frequent Peppers, he said, are the type of people who have criminal pasts.

"We're not talking about Boone Tavern or Applebee's or Addison's or Shakespeare's," he said. "This is the local gathering spot for a criminal element. These people are hostile and uncooperative toward law enforcement."

A history of violence — and more

Crimes like this weekend's shooting occur all too frequently, O'Sullivan said, and dealing with them takes tremendous effort and resources. His solution: "We want the damn place shut down."

He isn't alone. Reader comments on articles about Peppers published in the Columbia Missourian and the Columbia Daily Tribune often decry the embattled nightclub and call for its closure.

"OK, that's it," one Tribune reader commented in reaction to Sunday's shooting. "This place needs to be bulldozed, pronto."

But it's not that easy. If O'Sullivan had it his way, he would put a padlock on the door and tell them they're out of business, just like "the Old West, where the sheriff was the supreme authority," he said.

Instead, the power lies with the courts. And O'Sullivan might just get his wish on Friday, when the nightclub's owner, 61-year-old Karon Rowe, will be asked to defend herself against a preliminary injunction that aims to shut down the club for a year, claiming it is a public nuisance.

The outcome of Friday's hearing will determine how the property is used in the future, Assistant Boone County Prosecutor Ryan Haigh said.

Kevin O'Brien, who is representing Rowe, could not be reached for comment.

Haigh said the prosecution will present evidence of a number of criminal acts during the past five years. Although he would not elaborate, the original injunction petition, as well as a probable cause statement, shed some light on what led the Boone County Prosecutor's office to seek an injunction.

According to the document, Rowe was allowing the sale of alcohol after the 1:30 a.m. cutoff time, and employees were also serving to people who were clearly intoxicated.

In addition, the petition states that patrons have fired or possessed weapons at the club and have been arrested there more often than at other Boone County bars.

The document goes on to say Peppers is not only a nuisance for Columbia and Boone County, but also for neighboring businesses.

But Roger Heckes, who owns Columbia Wholesale Autos across the street, said his business is not directly affected, mainly because the two places operate during completely different hours of the day.

"It's like they don't even exist," Heckes said, "If it wasn't in the news, we would never know about anything over there."

The injunction petition, however, states that bullet holes have been found at Fletcher's Truck Caps, which is also across the street. Bottles have been thrown onto the nearby property of Clayton Homes.

Then there's the alleged prostitution, which is far from a new point of contention between Rowe and police.

In 2007, Rowe pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution. She was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay restitution, according to a previous Missourian story.

The judge at the time, Boone County Associate Circuit Judge Larry Bryson, gave her a word of warning before she left, according to the same article:

"You would serve jail time if you come back."

According to the probable cause statement from July, Officer Sterling Infield was directed to a bedroom downstairs. It was a room within a larger room, separated by partitions. In between mattresses were bags of what appeared to be used condoms. Sex toys and pornographic materials were found throughout Peppers as well.

"From my past training and experience, this room was the room utilized for prostitution," Infield wrote.

Upstairs, police found "a piece of paper that had names of women, prices and a box titled, 'Client,' " along with names to identify the Johns, according to the probable cause statement. More details could emerge as Rowe's hearing begins.

In addition, police found receipts that showed Electronic Benefit Transfer cards — electronic food stamps — had been used to purchase large quantities of chicken wings.

If the civil suit is successful, the club will close for up to a year, in addition to however long it takes to resolve the case. And as with any other case, Haigh said, it's hard to determine how long that might be.

O'Sullivan would prefer that the nightclub close its doors forever.

"I’d be very happy, and so would all of my fellow officers," he said. "And, I imagine, all the law-abiding, tax-paying citizens."

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Steve Baumann October 31, 2011 | 7:17 p.m.

Closing it down will not do any good, they will go somewhere else.
I guess it might be better to move them farther away from "civilization".
Peppers sure seemed like the ideal location for a reality show!

(Report Comment)
Damien Doxley November 1, 2011 | 11:31 a.m.
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