A rowdy fight inside a University City strip club turned fatal early yesterday after a young man shot a disc jockey and was killed by a University of Pennsylvania police officer when he turned his weapon on police.
The disc jockey remained in critical condition, the strip club has been shut, and police were deciding whether anyone involved with the fight should face criminal charges.
The incident marked the second time in seven months that campus police have fatally shot someone. In April, a carjacker tussled with a campus policeman over the officer's weapon and was killed. It is also the second time within weeks in which tensions by an unruly club crowd escalated into a fatal police confrontation in the neighborhood, where students live in high-rises, apartment complexes, and the university's International House.
Authorities said the early morning shoot-out, which did not involve Penn students or employees, started as a fight among numerous men shortly after midnight when the group walked into Club Wizzards at 38th and Chestnut Streets.
Homicide Lt. Mark Deegan said that the men appeared intoxicated when they arrived and that an argument erupted. It was unclear what prompted the argument, but Deegan said it did not appear that a dancer had been involved.
The club's disc jockey attempted to intervene, and the scrap continued as he fought one or more of the men for several minutes, Deegan said. Dozens of people were inside.
On busy nights, customers are patted for weapons. Yesterday, however, no one was checked, and detectives were trying to determine whether someone had the gun inside the bar or if someone left, retrieved the gun from a car, and returned to the club.
Lt. Frank Vanore, Philadelphia police spokesman, said that as the fight progressed, someone flagged down two campus police officers patrolling the area.
During the bar fight, the disc jockey, identified only as a 31-year-old male, was shot once in the chest and once in the right thigh, police said. He was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained in critical condition after surgery, police said.
Maureen Rush, formerly of the city's police department and currently vice president in charge of university public safety, said police responded quickly.
"Two Penn police officers entered Club Wizzards, and as they entered, they heard gunshots, and at the same time they saw a victim fall to the ground," Rush said.
The officers identified themselves as police and several times ordered the gunman to drop his weapon, Rush said. He refused and pointed the gun at police, she said. One of the officers fired twice.
The gunman, identified as Larry Sanders, 23, of the 500 block of North 54th Street, was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.
Two people who allegedly were in the club during the altercation tried to get into vehicles to leave but were apprehended, police said. Deegan said many people were taken in for questioning.
Last night, Wizzards was closed, a red-and-white closure order from the city's department of Licenses & Inspections pasted on the front door. It cited "public nuisance" from the Monday morning incident as well as unnamed electrical and fire-code violations.
Sara Barnes, who said she has been a bartender at the club for about a month, said she was surprised when she showed up for work last night. She said she hoped the club reopened soon.
"It doesn't make me scared to work there or anything," Barnes said. "This could happen anywhere." She said the club had been peaceful in her experience and University City was a good neighborhood. "I'd almost expect it more where I live," said the Southwest Philadelphia resident.
Kenny Foster, who lives near the club, said the shooting was shocking. "There've been fights before, but nothing to this level," he said. "Usually it's parking-lot fights, guys getting into it over one of the girls. You know, people get alcohol in their system and things happen."
Philadelphia homicide detectives are continuing their investigation. Use of deadly force will be investigated by university authorities and the District Attorney's Office.
The campus has its own Division of Public Safety, with 116 police officers, and contracts 450 privately employed security officers. There are also 85 surveillance cameras on campus.
Campus police, some of whom are retired from the city's force, must graduate from a state-certified academy. Rush said Penn's officers were a mix of veterans from different departments and included officers from Montgomery and Delaware Counties.
Every year, officers are required to take an eight-hour refresher course, including a shooting qualifier, Rush said.
She said it was unusual to have a single fatal shooting by campus police in any given year, let alone two.
"The difference this year is people are willing to shoot at police," Rush said.
Late last month, KoKo Bongo, a nightclub in the same building complex as Wizzards, was shut down after a fight erupted while a huge crowd was leaving the bar.
Police were heavily concentrated because of a confrontation there a week earlier; nonetheless, a 21-year-old gunman was killed after exchanging shots with city police. A city officer and a bystander were also wounded by gunshots.
University officials expressed concern about both incidents and yesterday afternoon sent an e-mail to students and employees informing them of a "serious incident that occurred on the periphery" of campus.
"The university has pursued every available means to prevent these types of incidents from occurring in the future, including additional police overtime, extra patrols, additional lighting and surveillance cameras," the e-mail said.
The note also said university officials would continue to meet with city officials to curtail violence associated with local bars. Although KoKo's was shut down by the city last month, it reopened this weekend.
A woman who answered the phone at Wizzards yesterday said no one was available for comment.
Hours after the Wizzards' shooting, officials from the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections posted a "Cease to Operate" order, closing the club until a hearing could determine otherwise.
"We're very grateful to hear that, quite frankly," Rush said of the order to close the club.
Inquirer staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald contributed to this report.