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Columbus Nightclub Under Investigation After Hundreds Violate Pandemic Restrictions

Ohio Investigative Unit

A nightclub on Columbus's far East Side is under investigation by state officials for a "flagrant" violation of COVID-19 health restrictions over the weekend. 

Undercover agents with the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Ohio Investigative Unit witnessed about 500 people packed inside the Aftermath club for a concert Saturday night. Most of the patrons and even some of the club's employees were not wearing face masks or maining proper physical distancing.

“They need to abide by all of the orders that have been put out by the department of health,” says OIU enforcement commander Eric Wolf. “That’s basically to ensure an environment where patrons can maintain social distancing, either through physical distance or some kind of barrier between groups.”

The OIU issued a citation to owner David Shelton for improper conduct, but Wolf says the agency does not have the authority to immediately shut down the business. The case goes to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, then will be presented to the Ohio Liquor Control Commission, which could choose to rescind its liquor license.

The city of Columbus is also conducting its own investigation.

“The city does not have the unilateral authority to shut anybody down,” says Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein. “That would be a violation of due process, and that’s a good thing, right? We don’t want the city to say, 'You must be shut down,' without a business owner or a homeowner not having the ability to go before a judge to defend him or herself. Through a court process, we can file a case a nuisance abatement case.”

Klein says the nuisance abatement case could eventually lead to the city ordering a shutdown.

There are already six other cases pending in the city for pandemic violations, with three of them near the Ohio State campus.

“What makes this case different is the magnitude of one single event and the flagrant disregard for all public health guidelines that have been put in place for eight months,” Klein says.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.