Maskless patrons and employees scrambled to hide evidence when Paterson police raided an illegal after-hours club that had become a death trap, authorities said.
Police found the door to La Café Hookah on Market Street locked when they showed up around 10:30 p.m. Saturday – a full half-hour after Gov. Phil Murphy’s COVID curfew required them to close, Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale said.
City officers looking through tinted windows saw people “scrambling inside removing hookahs and bottles of alcohol and taking them out a back door that led to a small area with no exit,” Speziale said.
Once inside, they found 45 patrons and eight employees, along with half-empty bottles of alcohol, cards on tables that had been used in games and the DJ still playing music, he said.
“There were no visible fire suppression systems or fire alarms,” Speziale added. “This was a disaster waiting to happen.”
The establishment “had no visible documentation,” the director said. “Nor was the owner able to provide any documents to prove that they were registered to operate in any capacity.”
That includes any business certificate or Health Department documents for the food being served, he said.
Nor were any employees or patrons wearing masks or practicing social distancing, Speziale said.
The event, it turns out, was a birthday bash advertised as being held at a “private location,” with hookah and food served, deejay music and “tight security.”
Police had been there a month ago after a 25-year-old man and 22-year-old woman were shot shortly before 2 a.m. Nov. 29.
Officers arrested the owner, Jamahl Carter, 48, and his son, Jamahl Jr., 28, of East Harlem, who manages the club, both on criminal charges of causing or risking widespread injury and damage, he said.
Both also received a host of violations for, among other offenses, selling alcohol without a license or special permit, allowing smoking indoors, not having an entertainment license, violating the city noise ordinance and maintaining a nuisance by “knowingly or recklessly creating and maintaining a condition endangering public safety,”
Police also arrested employee Erica Bush, 32, of Paterson after Speziale said they caught her trying to conceal evidence.
She was charged with all of the same violations as the Carters, as well as attempting to hide and conceal evidence of illegal activity, obstruction and resisting arrest.
Police collected all of the contraband and seized $2,749 in suspected proceeds from alcohol and hookah sales, the director said.
“This was a dangerous condition with so many different outcomes stopped on the tracks,” Speziale said.
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