CHICAGO (CBS) – The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously reversed an appeals court decision clearing the two owners of the former E2 nightclub of indirect criminal contempt charges, filed after 21 people died in a stampede at the club in 2003.
The high court ruled an appeals court panel erred when it tossed out the convictions of Calvin Hollins and Dwain Kyles, and their two-year prison sentences.
In 2009, Kyles and Hollins were convicted of violating a Cook County Housing Court judge’s order to close the second floor of the club at 2347 S. Michigan Av., over building code violations before the deadly stampede.
The appeals court had ruled the Housing Court’s order to close the club’s second floor in 2002 was vague. The owners had argued the order applied only to the mezzanine level of the club’s second floor, not the entire second floor.
In an opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, the high court ruled the order to close the second floor of the nightclub was clear, and the owners should not have allowed patrons to use that part of the nightclub.
“Even if the orders could be viewed as forbidding only use of the mezzanine, the defendants had not complied even with this requirement,” the court wrote in a summary of its ruling.
However, justices stopped short of reinstating the defendants’ sentences, instead sending the case back to the Illinois Appellate Court to consider other legal issues in the case that were not addressed in the original appeal. Kyles and Hollins still could face jail time, if the appeals court rejects their other arguments against their convictions.
Kyles’ attorney, Victor Henderson, said Kyles remains optimistic he’ll win out in the end.
“Dwain Kyles is a prayerful man, he’s an optimistic man, he’s an upright man, he’s caring, and he’s also a lawyer by training. And, so, he is as optimistic now as he has been from the day that the case started,” he said.
Authorities have said that a security guard began spraying pepper spray to break up a fight on Feb. 17, 2003, causing a panic in the crowded club. In the panic, the crowd rushed to the front exit, but because the doors opened inwards, patrons couldn’t get out because of the weight of the crowd pressing out against the doors.
Twenty-one people died in the stampede and dozens of others were injured.
Kyles and Hollins were acquitted of manslaughter charges in connection with the deaths in a separate case.
The owners have blamed the city for the deaths at the nightclub, claiming police and firefighters focused on establishing order at the club before rescuing people. They claimed the city responded as if there was a riot, rather than focusing on rescuing people stuck inside.
Kyles has said he believes there were ways to get people out of the stairwell quickly, but the city failed to use them.
The owners have also suggested, had the stampede happened at a white-owned club on the North Side, the rescue would have been better organized.
The city has said, if the owners had complied with the Housing Court order, there would have been no stampede down the stairs from the second floor, and no one would have been trapped or killed.