Slain woman's family, friends rally in front of nude bar
By Shanae Simmons and Joe Hirsch
Chanting “Turn off the heat,” some 50 protesters rallied in front of the Hunts Point strip bar Club Heat on March 2nd, to pressure the club to leave the neighborhood.
Community Board 2 members organized the rally, angry that the club and other nudie bars on the peninsula are dragging the neighborhood back to darker days when violence permeated the area.
District Manager Rafael Salamanca petitioned the State Liquor Authority to revoke the club’s liquor license, citing the killing of Monique Rodriguez, who was shot at the club in December, and another violent incident in January. Assemblyman Marcos Crespo joined the protest, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. endorsed the community board’s efforts to close the club permanently.
The board has taken a hard stance against gentlemen’s club in recent months, using its leverage with the SLA to win concessions from gentleman’s clubs or to keep them from opening.
About two-dozen family members and friends of Monique Rodriguez joined the rally, most wearing “I am Monique Rodriguez” t-shirts. Rodriguez, 33, was killed and another man wounded by crossfire between feuding patrons at the bar around 4 a.m. on Dec. 11 while attending a party.
In the January incident, three more people were shot and another was stabbed at the club, on Hunts Point Avenue near the intersection of Food Center Drive.
“The first thing in anybody’s job is safety first, and the safety there that night wasn’t 100 percent like it should be. If not, Monique would have still been alive,” said Rodriguez’s husband Franklin Flores, cradling one of their three children in his arms.
Long-time family friend Julio Pavon warned that the criminal case behind Rodriguez’s killing “should not be a file number” and bemoaned the fact that the reward offered by police to find her killer was a meager $2,000 until Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced this week he would increase it to $12,000.
“The guy that shot Monique is still walking around the streets,” he told the crowd.
The club was cited for using unlicensed security guards in January, prompting the community board to call a meeting with the club’s owner, Miguel Orozco. The board, Orozco and police officials from the 41st Precinct reached an agreement stipulating Club Heat would hire only licensed security guards, install additional outdoor security cameras and improve lighting at the club’s entrance.
But the state Supreme Court on Feb. 27 ordered the bar closed for a week when police discovered unlicensed security guards were still working there. Orozco was fined $5,000. The Court said the bar could reopen on March 3rd, but imposed conditions all security guards be licensed. In addition, the club must provide the precinct with a list of all patrons and employees it has banned from entering. If the club does not comply, it can be closed, the court ruled.
But residents and officials say a one-week shutdown and court-imposed conditions are not good enough. They want the club closed permanently.
“We don’t want them in this community. There’s no place for strip clubs,” said Salamanca.
Crespo pointed to a cafe & restaurant across the street from Club Heat on Hunts Point’s industrial waterfront, saying it was ironic that the food establishment can be downgraded or closed if the state finds a cockroach or a rag on the floor, whereas Club Heat faces only a one-week shutdown even though numerous shootings and a homicide recently occurred there.
“Here’s a business that is continuously disrespecting this community,” he said. “They are going to make themselves rich at our expense. We cannot allow this to continue. The state owes us this much.”
Calls to Orozco for comment, at the phone number he provided the community board, revealed a non-working number. Philip Rivera, commanding officer of the 41st Precinct, says the owner has had ample opportunity to make the bar safer, but instead has thumbed his nose at the community.
“We came up with what we thought was going to be a solution. Apparently, they didn’t pay attention,” Rivera said at Community Board 2′s February meeting earlier in the week.
The precinct has been regularly deploying two squad cars outside the club during the wee hours in order to neutralize the violence, taxing scarce police resources.
But Rivera said that despite the community’s objections and the dangers some of the club’s patrons bring to the neighborhood, “As disreputable as this may sound, it is a legal business.”