Crusader Staff Report
A Chicago family that lost a loved one in the E2 Nightclub tragedy filed a petition for a re-hearing last week, asking an Illinois appeals panel to review its April 30 decision that upheld a Cook County judge’s ruling finding that there was no evidence that any officer kept people from exiting the nightclub.
DaShand R. Ray, 24, was among 21 people who perished during the stampede on February 17 2003 at the E2 nightclub, which was located at 2347 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago. On the 15th anniversary of the tragedy, his family is still fighting for justice their son.
Reports said a security guard used pepper spray to break up a fight. Guests at E2 believed they were experiencing a terrorist attack and panic ensued on the club’s second level. Hundreds of patrons rushing to the building’s only exit created a stampede that jammed the stairwell. More than 1,100 jammed the space designed to hold 240 people. Police said the jammed crowds were as high as six feet in some areas on the stairwell.
The building’s owners, Calvin Hollins Jr. and Dwain Kyles, were charged with 21 counts of involuntary manslaughter, but were never convicted. Instead, they were found guilty of criminal contempt for violating a court order to close the second-floor nightclub for building violations months before the tragedy. Had the owners obeyed the order, 21 people might be alive today.
For their crime, Hollins Jr. and Kyles served two years of probation and 500 hours of community service.
In their petition, Howard Ray, Sr. and Mary Ray argued as special administrators of their late son’s estate that the April 30 court decision misapprehended their allegation that Chicago police officers jammed the nightclub’s exit doors and prevented patrons from leaving, causing deaths and injuries. The Ray family said the word “jam” has multiple meanings, and that their allegation did not necessarily mean, as the court assumed, that police officers affirmatively locked the exit doors. The Ray family said by directing patrons to move back into the nightclub and preventing members of the public from going in to help out trapped patrons, the armed Chicago police officers made the situation worse.
They accused the police officers of blocking and obstructing the only exit door while at the same time ordering patrons to move back up the packed stairway, and caused the patrons’ deaths and injuries.
The Rays are represented on appeal by attorney Eric Onyango of the law firm, Prime Legal, LLC. The City of Chicago is represented by attorney Kerrie Maloney Laytin from its Law Department.
The Ray family supported their arguments by citing portions of videos from the nightclub’s surveillance cameras supplied by the city of Chicago. The Ray family said the video shows at least one Chicago police officer standing inside the nightclub building by the lone exit door and motioning with hands and lips movements, directing the crowd to move back into the party upstairs. The Ray family says the Chicago police officers can also be seen in the video pushing away would be rescue people away from the exit door onto the street.
The Rays attached the deposition testimony of Calvin Hollins to their petition. Hollins testified that even though there were 15 operational cameras, nine operational surveillance cameras that covered the nightclub, the City of Chicago and Chicago police only produced video from four cameras after they confiscated the surveillance equipment from the nightclub following the stampede.
The Ray family also urged the appeals court panel to allow them to amend their complaint, citing Illinois Supreme Court Rule 366. But the appeals court panel declined to consider the Rays’ argument that the Cook County judge erred when she failed to allow them to amend their complaint.
Ray’s attorneys say if the appeals court grants their client’s petition and reverses the Cook County judge’s ruling, a trial will be held to determine the City of Chicago’s liability and damages. If the petition is denied, the Rays intend to continue their fight to the Illinois Supreme Court.