After being ruled a public nuisance, fate of Empire Supper Club remains unknown

Updated: Sep. 20, 2017 at 11:13 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The doors to the Empire Supper Club remain shut days after a hail of gunfire wounded eight near the club early Saturday.

That incident, along with the club's history, prompted police to declare it a public nuisance and chain the doors. But the owner, Joseph Stovall says he's willing to make whatever changes are necessary, to keep his business open.

The nightclub, located at 920 Lady Street, has had issues in the past. In 2010, four people were shot outside of what was then known as "Club Ice." Fast forward four years, to 2014 when someone was shot in the leg near "Lucky 13," which was the name of the club at that time.

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Stovall says he came to own the business that same year.

The choice facing the City of Columbia and those who run the Empire Supper Club now, re-open the nightclub or keep it shut down?

Stovall says Empire has been singled out for a problem not isolated to one location.

"I'm humble enough to know, and I think anyone who's conscious knows, that the problem wasn't Empire Supper Club. The problem is the criminal," Stovall said. "And the truth and the reality is you have criminals, you have gang members, you have gun violence here in the city. In the entire city, not just in the Vista."

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It's not clear at this point whether the closure is permanent. Stovall and attorney Bakari Sellers proposed a list of changes that would be made at the club if it was allowed to reopen.

As of Wednesday afternoon, those steps were under city review and Sellers said he was unable to comment further.

Any appeal of the police department's action to close the club would move first to the city manager's office, then possibly to a circuit court.

"I'm going to let the police department focus on the nightclub," Mayor Steve Benjamin said. "I want to make sure that these cases are successfully prosecuted. And that we're doing whatever we need to be doing to make sure that we have, that we are keeping our city safe from people who live within the borders but also those who live outside the borders who might want to wreak havoc. We're going to make sure we keep resourcing our law enforcement professionals."

Three of the victims from Saturday's shooting remain hospitalized in critical but stable condition. One victim is listed as stable while three others have been released.

One of the suspects, 22-year-old Maleik Houseal, was also wounded and is now out of the hospital. He appeared before a judge on Wednesday and had his bond set at $50,000. He is also now facing a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm - which carries a 10-year maximum sentence.

The government documents on that charge lay out in detail some of the events before and after the shooting incident.

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