CHICAGO (Reuters) - A judge on Friday cleared three men charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of 21 people who were crushed in a stampede out of a nightclub four years ago.
The co-owner, manager and promoter of Chicago’s E2 nightclub were freed after Cook County Judge Dennis Porter ruled prosecutors had failed to prove their case.
A guard at E2 on February 17, 2003, testified that he used pepper spray to break up a fight on the dance floor, setting off a panic in the club where the 1,150 patrons on hand were five times the club’s legal capacity.
Many club goers rushed to a narrow staircase leading to the front entrance that became jammed with bodies. Twenty-one people were asphyxiated.
Prosecutors said the accused men should have been aware of dangers such as overcrowding, the lack of properly lit exits, and the illegal use of a chemical spray by security.
The other co-owner still faces trial on the charge, pending the outcome of an appeal on whether to allow evidence that he might have ignored a city inspector’s order to close the club.
The deadly incident raised questions about the city’s inspection process.