You’ll never guess who showed up at “Fuck the Cops” night at Pulse Nightclub.
And you’ll never guess what they found:
An underage college kid drinking booze!
That was the scene late Thursday night and early Friday morning at the Chapel Street night spot that has become the latest conflagration point in the ongoing battle between the city and raucous downtown clubs.
The police have been showing up at all downtown clubs, including Pulse, to crack down on underage drinking and reports of violence. In response, Pulse owner Jason Cutler, 37 (who also owns Center Street Lounge), has sued the city, claiming harassment; last week his lawyer, John Williams, deposed Mayor John DeStefano on the subject.
In the wake of one alleged out-of-control incident involving a police sweep last week, Pulse patrons showed up Thursday night for a “Fuck the Cops” party. At least that’s how some regulars from Southern Connecticut State University billed it on Twitter.
“I had no idea about the fuck the police party. It was just some people going around the Southern campus, because business was so hurt so bad last week, and they were trying to bring it back—but I had nothing to do with it,” Cutler insisted at the club Thursday night.
Lt. Jeff Hoffman said the department has a special downtown bar detail that hits all the clubs because of all the problems there recently. He said in no way does the detail single out Pulse.
Police showed up at the club several times Thursday night and early Friday.
“It’s not a raid! It’s not a raid!” bouncers reassured anxious customers.
“It’s absolutely routine. Nothing unusual,” said Police Sgt. Rose Turney after speaking to staff at the nightclub for a few minutes, flanked by three other officers.
The fire marshal was accompanying police on inspections of all the clubs Thursday night.
Last Week’s Raid
Bouncer Brandon Ruff (pictured) said Pulse had added at least three new security staff members recently. “Around the bar, they’re not messing around,” he said. “They’re going in and taking people’s drinks if they’re underage.”
Ruff’s job Thursday night was to police the outdoor balcony of the club’s second floor, making sure no one threw bottles or cigarettes into the courtyard below and looking out for anyone who appeared to be underage. The crowd seemed pretty tame throughout the night.
Ruff had heard the official report by police that they had responded to a report of gunshots at the club last week, then found a man stabbed there. He said he wasn’t surprised. He works at other nightclubs, too, such as the downtown hotspot Karma. “I hate to say this, but that’s downtown New Haven,” he said, shrugging.
Club owner Cutler insisted that gunshots didn’t take place inside the club, but rather somewhere else. “The issue is that there was no gunshot and no stabbing,” he said. “That’s what the cops said, but there was no evidence. So why did you publish that?”
“I was here that night, and that didn’t happen,” Cutler said. “There’s always incidents, but as a club owner you can only do so much. If I took all my security from the club into the sidewalk, who’d protect the club? And then I try to hire a cop and they don’t send him!”
Meanwhile, on a separate visit on Thursday of last week, police came into the club along with state liquor control agents. They found “hundreds” of people who appeared to be underage, he said. (Read the original report on both incidents here.)
“It was grossly overcrowded,” said Lt. Hoffman. “The density of the crowd interfered with the ability of the liquor inspectors to card everyone. It was becoming a dangerous situation to contain people. Everyone was running around. Everyone dropped their drinks on the second floor and ran to the first floor. We ended up in the interest of public safety allowing people to leave. We didn’t have enough personnel [to check them].”
Liquor control agents did stop three people who were underage, and they were arrested. “There were many more than that. There were probably 100 underage people judging by their appearance,” said Hoffman.
A Quieter Night
The crowd wasn’t as large this Thursday night. There was plenty of dancing to blaring recorded pop and electronica, but no trouble.
Ruff, who is also a construction worker, makes $75/night at Pulse, where he works on Thursdays. He said he and a group of friends have been in charge of organizing the parties lately, and that at first, the rest of the nightclub staff may not have realized “how big they were.”
“I’d say this is probably the biggest party [in New Haven] right now,” he said as people streamed into the second-floor bar area. The club has three bars; the basement bar was by far the most crowded on Thursday night.
Although Ruff said bouncers and security were cracking down on underage drinkers, numerous patrons interviewed Thursday night said they didn’t want to give their names—because they’re under 21 and they were drinking. The club allows people over 18 to attend; but officially, you have to be 21 to drink.
“I feel safe so far,” said a woman who gave her name only as Jill because she’s under 21.
Another group of four students, asked why they come to Pulse, responded: “They let us drink underage.”
At 12:30 a.m., several cops showed up, including Lt. Hoffman, plus the fire marshal.
“It’s the cops, it’s the cops!” patrons screamed.
“It’s not a raid! It’s not a raid!” bouncers reassured anxious customers.
Soon after the cops arrived, people start streaming out. Not because of the cops, but because it was closing time. Some complained that the bar was closing too early.
Austin Wallon (pictured), 23, said that he “needed at least three more hours of drinking.”
“I want to go back to Florida!” he screamed.
He wasn’t aware of the alleged theme of the party.
“I’m not about fuck the police, but I’m also not about leaving the club at quarter to one,” he said.
The police did not have liquor control agents in tow this time. They didn’t check IDs.
But Hoffman did see a young man walk out into the Temple Street courtyard with a drink in his hand—a no-no. He questioned the young man. The young man admitted to being underage and having a fake ID. The police referred his case to state liquor control.
Meanwhile, a reporter spoke with the man’s inebriated friends. It was difficult to match up their stories, beyond that they identified themselves as “junior hockey players.”
Two of the club’s bouncers, one of them 24 and from Newhallville, the other one 22 and from “The Tre,” asked that their names not be used in this article. When asked whether the cops gave them grief, they were candid:
“They be on our ass,” said one. “I guess they hate the owner.”
Why do they hate the owner?
“Cause he’s making money!” said the other. “They come every week!”
“Every time they come, they find nothing,” said the one. “We never let underage people drink.”
“If one of the slips by, or if anyone gets too drunk, they’ve got to go,” said the other. “We don’t throw them out, though, we walk them out.”
“I hate the fucking cops,” said the first bouncer. “They don’t respect us.”
“They’re in college!” he went on. “They should be allowed to drink! That’s what college people do. But our job comes first. Even if we know someone, from our neighborhood, who’s underage, we tell him ‘Come on, man, you know the rules!’”
“The cops treat us like we ain’t nothing,” said the other. “We are helping them do their jobs and they don’t appreciate it.”
Years Of Tussles
City officials and the cops have been tussling with downtown club owners—especially Cutler—for years in the wake of the explosion of the downtown club scene and violent incidents and drunken mayhem on the streets at closing time seemingly every weekend. They’ve enlisted the help of state legislators like Sen. Martin Looney. Click here to read a previous story about that, and Cutler’s response; click on the play arrow to watch Cutler confront a city official at a 2011 press conference.
In recent months the police have found the Temple Street Courtyard, where Pulse backs up, a particular source of problems as the clubs let out on weekend nights. Drunken crowds form; sometimes cops are attacked. Click here, here and here to read about one recent controversial incident.
“The cops have been harassing me mercilessly because the mayor told them to,” Jason Cutler said Thursday night. “He’s trying to shut me down, and he’s made it very clear.”
So Cutler has taken the city to court. It’s his second suit against New Haven for actions taken against his clubs.
The suit, filed last year in U.S. District Court and since amended, charges the mayor and the city with “target[ing]” Cutler’s two clubs since 2010 “for the specific purpose of driving [him] out of business” through “disparate treatment” and “unequal enforcement.”
The complaint alleges numerous instances of such treatment at both locations. Click here to read it.
The city tried to get a judge to dismiss the case. He ruled that it could proceed.
Monday Sept. 24, Cutler’s attorney, John Williams went to the mayor’s office to depose DeStefano in connection with the case. At one point Williams asked the mayor why he chose to hold a press conference on problem bars outside Pulse. The mayor said he “didn’t remember,” according to Williams.
Because of the pending lawsuit, DeStefano referred questions to the city’s lawyer, Victor Bolden, who predicted a judge would dismiss Cutler’s lawsuit.
“Mr. Cutler’s lawsuit was thrown out before, and unlike fine wine, Mr. Cutler’s new lawsuit did not improve with age. The city expects to have his new lawsuit dismissed at some point as well,” predicted Bolden in a written statement emailed by the mayor’s press office.