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Why Cincinnati police are raising the alarm about East End's Inner Circle Nightclub

Police: Sex acts were final straw with nightclub
Posted at 2:34 PM, Apr 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-30 07:05:54-04

CINCINNATI -- When recording artist Luther Campbell came to town last summer, the event he hosted was billed as a "twerk" contest.

Twerking is a form of dance that involves rapidly shaking one's buttocks up and down while in a semi-squatted position.

But Cincinnati police say the contest quickly devolved into an on-stage sex show in exchange for money -- and with support from employees at an East End nightclub.

The brothers who own the club, Inner Circle, each face a misdemeanor charge of procuring prostitution.

One of the owners said the sex acts were an anomaly, a one-time occurrence after decades in business. A neighborhood leader backs him up, arguing the owners have been pillars in his community and that crime there isn't so bad it should be shut down.

The Cincinnati Police Department says the sex show is just one of many reasons the nightclub shouldn't be allowed to renew its liquor license. The department's vice squad points to problems with violent crime and minors buying liquor.

Chief Eliot Isaac worries Inner Circle could become the next Cameo Night Club, another East End establishment where two people were killed and more than a dozen were injured in a shootout last year.

'That is horrific to me'

Cincinnati City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee will hear again Monday why police don't want Inner Circle's liquor license renewed. The committee wanted more information after a similar meeting two weeks ago.

While local communities can raise formal objections to the state, Ohio's Liquor Control Commission ultimately decides who can get and renew a liquor permit.

Police Officer Patricia Simpson, with Cincinnati's vice squad, called last summer's twerking contest "the straw that broke the camel's back with this club."

"I mean, it was a sex act on stage for probably 400 to 500 people to see," Simpson said.

Campbell, a former member of rap group 2 Live Crew and better known as "Uncle Luke," hosted the contest July 2.

Police officers work off-duty details at Inner Circle; but by law, they have to remain outside. Investigators say they learned what happened from social media posts and video: that Campbell acted as more of a ringmaster, hyping up the crowd and encouraging the contestants to engage in progressively more sexual behavior.

Finally, police say, two women were nude from the waist down, and two other women performed oral sex on them for prize money.

"That is horrific to me," Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman said at the April 16 meeting.

Isaac, in a detailed memo released last week, said he had no doubt the club "participated in prostitution." He also alleged Campbell tried to initiate a sex show at a St. Louis nightclub, but staff there stopped him before any women exposed themselves.

Pete Georgeton, one of Inner Circle's owners, told council members he too tried to shut down the show but couldn't: Staff worried there'd be a riot, he said.

After having some 3,000 performers perform during his 56 years as a businessman, Georgeton said none had ever involved a sex act.

"I'm embarrassed to be in front of you this morning for something that happened in my establishment that should never happened," he said. 

The criminal cases against Georgeton and his brother, Bill, are still working their way through court. Campbell also was charged with procuring prostitution, with a warrant out for his arrest.

Councilman Jeff Pastor argued the sex acts should be taken in the context of the Georgetons' decades in business.

"I just do not feel comfortable with denying a liquor license for one event," he said.

Last place she was seen alive

Inner Circle has also been the site of dozens of violent crimes in the past ten years, according to police. That includes six robberies, 42 assaults, 11 felonious assaults and two murders.

The nightclub was the last place 16-year-old Hailey Hall was seen alive. According to police, her then-34-year-old boyfriend William Arnold beat her as she left the club on Feb. 29, 2016. She died two weeks later.

Arnold, now 36, is scheduled to go on trial June 6. He faces two counts of murder, felonious assault, kidnapping, abduction and tampering with evidence.

At the council hearing two weeks ago, police alleged Hall had been to Inner Circle several times and delivered drugs from inside the club out to the parking lot.

About 10 percent of the East End's violent crime is tied to the club, Isaac wrote in his memo. It had the second-most violent crime of any place in the neighborhood.

The first, according to Isaac, was Cameo. He urged council members to recognize what he called "serious and real" danger at Inner Circle because of the club's failure to protect its patrons' safety.

"The City should not allow Inner Circle to follow the same path as Club Cameo," he wrote.

'Honorable men'

Patrick Ormond, president of the East End Area Council, has known the Georgeton brothers for decades. He said the crowd the night of the twerking contest could have gotten out of control and believes staff shut down the sex acts as quickly as they could.

"It was rather a rowdy crowd," he said. "I think they were blindsided."

Ormond doesn't blame the Georgetons for the crime at the club. He blames the music.

”The hip hop, rap music ... the mindset of that group can lead to violence," Ormond told WCPO Sunday.

He called it "the music of crime, the music of low morals."

"I think it was the genre of the music. If you don't have that type of music ... I don't think it happens anywhere," Ormond said.

Ormond also called the Georgeton brothers "vital to the community." Their property hosts flea markets with fresh food in an area that has no grocery store, he said.

The brothers also helped set up a youth employment program and always supported the community council with its events, Ormond said.

With thousands of people at their venue over the years, he didn't believe the crime statistics were as bad as police might portray them.

"These are honorable men," he said.

WCPO attempted to reach Pete Georgeton on Sunday for further comment.

Monday's meeting begins at 9 a.m. at City Hall, 801 Plum St., Cincinnati.