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City, police focused on St. Pete strip club before fatal shooting

ST. PETERSBURG — The two groups started arguing inside the nightclub before it spilled into the parking lot early Monday, police said. That's where one group took aim at the other and opened fire.

Jermaine A. Long, 33, was shot and fatally wounded at about 1:30 a.m., police said. Records show he was released from prison on March 20 — just 13 days before his death. Another man was injured but was expected to survive.

The incident heightened fears and frustrations with the Sugar Room, which residents have called an illegal adult entertainment venue that's taken root near their neighborhood of Historic Roser Park.

One resident let the city have it on St. Petersburg's code violation reporting website: "Once again, let's all pretend the Mayor lives right beside this strip club and then let's have all the city employees and the police department REACT ACCORDINGLY !!!," wrote someone with the username Goldnwolf.

Police have not released any other information about the shooting or the investigation, including the identity of the other wounded man.

Records show officers have been dispatched 21 times to the business at 1239 Fourth St. S since the start of 2018 to investigate complaints such as illegal parking, noise, domestic battery, criminal mischief and large crowds. There was a stretch when police visited the club nine times in five days.

Code enforcement inspectors have also been busy there. They have not sanctioned the Sugar Room for operating as an unpermitted strip club, however, even though its Facebook page bills itself as "Tampa Bay's newest adult attraction," and features photos of scantily-clad women, some bathed in dollar bills.

Instead, code enforcement believes it's more effective to pursue these other violations against the business: for performing construction without a permit; for operating as a bar when it's only zoned as a restaurant; and for painting an unpermitted sign on the side of the building, city records show.

They issued the construction violation on Feb. 7 after they said the operators ripped out a wall between two units without a permit. To comply, the owners would have to either get an after-the-fact permit for the work, or get a permit to return the building to its original state.

And even though the club owners do have a state-issued liquor license, the building isn't zoned to operate as a bar or nightclub. Inspectors dinged it with that violation after they noticed the kitchen had been removed.

"So there's no way they could operate as a restaurant right now," said James Corbett, the city's director of codes compliance assistance.

He said the city could issue the club a citation for being an unapproved adult venue in the future but "I think we have enough right now to say the business should not be operating as it is."

The next step for the club's operators is to appear before the Code Enforcement Board's April 25 hearing. The Sugar Room's operators could not be reached for comment Monday.

Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said the department has also taken action against the club, sending a letter warning the operator that it has received complaints of narcotic activity, and that the operator needs to submit a plan to police explaining how they're going to clean up their act.

The deadline passed last week, however, and the Sugar Room submitted no plan. The next step for police will likely be having the club deemed a chronic nuisance by the Nuisance Abatement Board, which could result in fines.

It's unclear when the Sugar Room opened for business. Its Facebook page said it opened in December, but police believe it opened on Feb. 1. The business has been known as "Jeff's" and "The Porch" in the past.

The man killed there early Monday, Long, was sentenced in 2007 to spend 10 years in prison on drug charges such as trafficking cocaine and the possession and sale of heroin.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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