A shooting that killed two people and injured two others outside a Broad River Road nightclub early Wednesday stemmed from an argument over strippers and money, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.
“The only thing that is going to be effective there is to close the doors, lock the doors and not allow them to open again,” Lott said of The Black Pearl, which the sheriff said is operating as a strip club. The business has caused headaches for his agency since it opened.
Torance Lamar Peoples, 26, of Springwood Lake Point in Columbia, and 23-year-old Trevonne Judge, of Mountain Brook Drive in Columbia, each died of a gunshot wound to the upper body, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said.
Lott told The State that the business has operated as a strip club, and that nearby businesses have complained about what goes on there. Deputies have responded to the club at least 32 times this year, with calls ranging from larcenies to shootings, a sheriff’s department spokesman said.
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“Everything that we've predicted was going to happen, has happened,” Lott said. “They've been allowed to operate from Day 1 without a business license.”
No charges have been filed in the shooting, which happened around 3 a.m. and injured two other people, Lott said. Officials have said Peoples and Judge were involved in the shootout that stemmed from an argument between two groups.
The club’s owner, Scott McMillan, declined to comment but referred a reporter to a statement posted on the club’s Facebook page.
“Out of humble respect for the family of the victims of this morning’s senseless violence, Black Pearl will be closed (Wednesday),” the statement reads. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them. Black Pearl is cooperating fully with law enforcement to make sure that those responsible are brought to justice.”
The club, which was purchased in January 2016 by Jamz LLC, does not have an active business license with Richland County, according to online county records.
The county denied a business license for the club as a drinking establishment earlier this year for what officials said was a misrepresentation of ownership and because the nightclub was operating as a strip club, according to transcripts from a June meeting of the Richland County Business Service Center Appeals Board.
Capt. Harry Polis of the sheriff’s department showed the board video clips of two naked women “engaged in a sex act” on the stage at The Black Pearl, according to the transcript.
“In addition to the videos, we’ve also been provided still images that depict the same types of activities in that location,” he said.
When asked by the board about issues of crime, drugs and nudity at the club, McMillan said he and his employees “go out of our way” to run a clean, safe business.
“I’ve spent $8,000 a month on security alone,” he said, according to the transcript. “We run armed security in the parking lot and unarmed security on the interior.”
Lott said it was unclear if security personnel were present at the club when the shooting happened.
Because operating without a license is not a criminal act, Lott said he cannot shut down the club.
“The county ordinances just don't have any teeth,” he said. “I'm frustrated because I can't be like (Columbia police Chief Skip Holbrook) and go identify a problem club and put a padlock and chain on it.”
Additional questions sent to a Richland County spokeswoman about the club’s license had not been answered by Wednesday evening.
Peoples, whose birthday was Wednesday, had previously been arrested in connection with a fatal 2012 shooting outside a McDonald’s on Two Notch Road, according to law enforcement records and news archives. Police said at the time that a fight in the restaurant’s parking lot led to several men drawing guns and firing. One person was killed and two others were injured.
Peoples was charged with seven counts of attempted murder and weapons charges, according to the State Law Enforcement Division. He was convicted on one count of first-degree assault and battery and discharging a firearm into a dwelling; the remaining charges were dismissed.