Rave On? Not Likely as City Appeal Board Puts Afterlife to Death Following Riveting Hearing.
In mid-October we predicted that the hearing before the Permit and License Appeal Board over whether the club Afterlife should have its dancehall license revoked would probably be the most exciting thing that's come before the board in a very long time. In hindsight, that was probably an understatement.
Photos by Anna Merlan Undercover narcotics officers testified today at City Hall that they easily bought drugs at Afterlife, the so-called "Golden Corral of buffet dealing."
At the conclusion of today's six-hour hearing, the board voted unanimously to uphold Dallas Police Chief David Brown's revocation of its license after he said the club's owner and/or his employees "knowingly allowed the possession, use, or sale of controlled substances on the premises." Long story short: The club is closed effective right now, pending any legal appeals from club owner Mark Annis.
The riveting, sometimes strange day of testimony included statements from three narcotics officers, all of whom wore ninja-like hoods to conceal their appearances. Defense attorney Arthur Selander tried to portray Annis as a responsible business owner who did his best with the tricky task of keeping ecstasy out of the club. Meanwhile, Assistant City Attorney Melissa Miles used the officers' testimony to paint the club as "the modern equivalent of an opium den."
It became clear that while Afterlife was among the first clubs to be shuttered due to drug use and drug sales on its property, it probably won't be the last. The narcotics officers said they had targeted the club as just one piece of an ongoing investigation, already underway when Grandview 19-year-old Matthew Allen died two hours after leaving the club, where he was allegedly sold ecstasy by Skyler Brandt, also 19.
The hearing began around the hour of the day when a good night out would be drifting towards a morning at Waffle House. There was virtually no audience, apart from four members of the press and Afterlife's manager, Josh Cavanaugh, who arrived with Annis and sat through the entire day. From the start, Miles argued that the 17-and-up club's entire business model invited the use of ecstasy, with plush couches, light shows and exorbitantly priced beverages (though no booze) for the chemically dehydrated. First, though, she had to explain ecstasy and "rave culture" to the board, who apparently missed the '90s entirely.
Afterlife club owner Mark Annis, in green
"There are terms I want you to understand," Miles told the board. "Rolling," she explained, means "under the influence of ecstasy," while a rave "is commonly understood to be a party" surrounding the use of ecstasy. "I need you to understand what it's like to be rolling in order to understand exactly why the club is set up the way it's set up," she added.
The three hooded narcotics detectives said they visited the club three times over a period of three weekends, with two of them buying drugs on four different occasions and one of them providing backup. All of the officers testified that ecstasy dealers at the club were incredibly blatant, selling tabs as well as molly (powdered MDMA) openly on the club's back patio. "This is like the Golden Corral of buffet dealing," one officer told the board. "Anyone can come and be served."
Another agreed, saying, "This was not just a club. It was an open-air, free-for-all drug-trading den. It was kind of alarming because it was so blatant." He said when he bought drugs from a female dealer she pulled out tabs of ecstasy "plain as day" from her bra, then deposited his cash in the same spot. All three officers reported seeing lots of people who looked like they were under the influence of ecstasy; they all estimated, somehow, that "80 to 90 percent" of the patrons looked like they were high.
Selander pointed out that electronic music, light shows, plush couches and $3 bottles of water aren't illegal, and, what's more, that the club has had its dancehall license for six years without incident.
"Afterlife is not an outlaw organization," he said. "It doesn't operate under the radar of the city of Dallas. It has never operated under the radar." He said that without administering blood or breath tests to club patrons, the officers couldn't prove they were high, or that they'd gotten their drugs from the club even if they were. Drug dealers and users, he said, are covert, and "conceal their activities by almost any means." He also objected to Miles and the narcotics detectives repeatedly linking Afterlife with Darkside, the not-church that was shut down back in August, along with porno-playground The Playhouse.
Selander was also obviously frustrated by what the board chair called the "quasi-judicial" nature of the proceedings. He objected to the introduction of police reports into evidence when the officers who wrote the reports weren't there for him to cross-examine. Miles told him that he had been welcome to call the reporting officers to the hearing, to which he retorted that he had no subpoena power to compel them to come. Unlike a criminal trial, all the witnesses were allowed to stay in the room and listen to each other's testimony.
When it came time for him to testify, Annis -- soft-spoken, wearing a green polo shirt and looking rather sad -- told the board that he's been a licensed insurance agent since 1987. But he started DJ'ing in various clubs around Dallas and Fort Worth around 2000, and got his dancehall permit for Afterlife in 2006. He flatly rejected the idea that he had knowingly allowed drugs to be sold, possessed or consumed on his property, and said that he and his staff had strict policies about searching and questioning anyone they felt was acting suspicious.
"We take steps above and beyond similar clubs," he said. The packet he and his attorney submitted to the board also contained their "ban list," the people who have been permanently or temporarily barred from the club. Skyler Brant was on that list three weeks before she was arrested and charged in Allen's death.
In a sharp cross-examination, Miles challenged Annis to explain why there were no records showing that the club had ever called DPD to pick up seized narcotics, and no record that the club has ever called an ambulance to pick up sick or intoxicated patrons.
"DPD from the inception of this club has always taken a negative attitude towards us," Annis replied. He said that anything given to police probably would have been "twisted around" to make the club look bad; he also alleged that DPD may have held a grudge against him for declining to hire off-duty officers to work at the club when it first opened. When Miles pressed him on citations he'd received before 2006 for running a dancehall with no permit, Annis pointed out that all eight of those tickets were ultimately dismissed. He added that he was still arrested twice in the space of two weeks in 2005 over the matter.
But it was clear from their questions that the board members were concerned about the club's security and the youth of its clientele. When it came time for a motion, they quickly and unanimously upheld DPD's revocation.
After the hearing, Annis and Cavanaugh looked grim, if not exactly surprised. "I guess we are a little disappointed," Annis said when asked for a reaction. He said it's possible Afterlife may file an injunction against the city in state appeals court, though they haven't submitted anything yet.
Annis told Unfair Park that this is part of a longer pattern of the police department and the city trying to smear him and his club. "It's no coincidence they released the license revocation," he said, the same day that they announced Brant had been arrested; he feels that was a move designed to link the two in the public's mind. Leaving the hearing room, he told us, "They just want to make us look really bad."