Santa Monica city officials said this week that an agreement between the city and Club 321 designed to limit criminal activity by patrons will not be affected by last weekend's shotgun murder of a teen-ager on a nearby street corner.
An argument among patrons of the popular Club 321 ended outside on the street early Saturday morning when Christian Jepson, 18, was killed by a single shotgun blast fired from a car.
Police said Jepson and his friends argued with members of a Los Angeles street gang inside the club, located at 321 Santa Monica Blvd. When Jepson and his companions left later, they were stopped on the street by about a dozen gang members and a fight broke out, according to Detective Ray Cooper. The suspects then ran to a car and shot Jepson as they drove off, Cooper said. A 15-year-old boy also suffered minor injuries from the shotgun blast.
The incident occurred less than three months after owners of the club agreed to changes that city officials said they hoped would put an end to a string of crimes--including assault, loitering and public drunkenness--linked to club customers.
City Atty. Robert M. Myers said this week that the agreement is unaffected by Saturday's murder.
"They have attempted to comply with the conditions of the agreement," Myers said. "The incident at the 321 does not appear to be related to the problems that initiated the (city's) action at the 321 Club, nor does there appear to be any disregard of the agreement.
"It appears there was nothing they could have done to avoid this incident based on the information that we have received."
The Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously a year ago to ask the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to revoke or suspend 321's liquor license. Shortly before an administrative hearing into the case this summer, however, the city and club reached an agreement.
In return for the city withdrawing its accusations and allowing the club to keep its liquor license, owner Lloyd Moody agreed to several changes at his club, including:
- Employing a security guard.
- Prohibiting customers under 21 near the club's two bars, the only locations where drinking is allowed.
- Refusing admission to minors who appear to be under the influence of alcohol or who have been convicted previously of alcohol-related incidents that occurred while they were on their way to or leaving the club.
- Patrolling restrooms to discourage use of illegal drugs.
Police Chief James F. Keane, who once called the club his "No. 1 problem," said this week that he is still concerned about its clientele.
"Naturally we are concerned," Keane said. "But we have an agreement and we have to give them (the club's owners) a chance to see if it works. But it's obvious the club attracts the wrong element as far as I'm concerned."
The murder was the first death directly linked to an incident at the club, according to police. But they said patrons have previously been arrested for brandishing guns and knives and for assault. The club has been cited for serving alcohol to minors.
Detective Cooper said young people who come from all over Los Angeles County create a volatile mix when they meet at the club.
Two girls at Westchester High School, where Jepson was once a student, talked about the crime on the condition that their names be withheld. They said they stopped attending the club early this summer. "We haven't gone there for a long time because of the gangs," one said.
The girls, who planned to attend Jepson's funeral Tuesday, said the young man was not the type to get into trouble. "Everybody who knew him knew that he was a nice guy," one said. "He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Club owner Lloyd Moody was out of town this week, but his wife Gloria said that the murder should not be connected to Club 321.
She said that employees at the club told her they "saw that something was about to happen," and separated Jepson's group from another group of young men. "The two sides broke up and both sides shook hands before it ever became a fight," she said. "Everything was fine."
Gloria Moody said that too much attention has been focused on a "few bad seeds" who attend the club. "The majority of the kids that go there are good kids," she said "It shocked us all that this should happen."