Notorious Miami strip club Coco’s must pay $8.7 million for party that turned violent

Jury faults Miami strip club

A Miami-Dade jury orders Coco's strip club to pay $8.7 million to a promoter shot and wounded at the venue in December 2011.
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A Miami-Dade jury orders Coco's strip club to pay $8.7 million to a promoter shot and wounded at the venue in December 2011.

Coco’s, the legendary North Miami-Dade strip club that has played a role in many a fistfight, drug deal and shooting over the decades, must pay $8.7 million to a party promoter who suffered gunshot wounds during a melee just after Christmas 2011.

A Miami-Dade jury this month ordered the club to pay damages to Christopher Nealy, who was shot three times and underwent seven surgeries to help save his life. Nealy was hit in the crossfire when a man named Michael Prophet began shooting at a rival outside the club.

Jurors agreed Coco’s failed to have proper security when hosting a show featuring two rappers who hated each other. A club security guard immediately shot Prophet, a killing that was ruled justified by prosecutors.

Nealy was a rapper known as S.O. Certified and a promoter who helped the popular “Wednesdays at Coco’s.”

Lawyers Bruce Jacobs and Reginald Mathis called Coco’s a “pirate’s den” that should have done more to protect their client. They say Nealy has been unable to work since the shooting.

“He lost everything. He also lost his home. He lost money,” Jacobs said.

Cosmic Corp., the company that owns and operates the club, will appeal the verdict, handed down late Friday in the courtroom of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Miguel de la O.

“We believe the jury’s verdict was based on sympathy, not on the law,” said the club’s lawyer, Martin Gilliam. “Our security wasn’t negligent. It was shown we killed the assailant. We handled the assailant within four seconds after he fired at one of the patrons.”

Opened in 1992, Coco’s touts itself as the first strip club in Miami-Dade County to offer lap dances. The club, at 1430 NW 119th St., is also one of the last black-owned gentleman’s clubs in South Florida, Gilliam said. In July, the club rebranded itself as the “The Edge,” an upscale adult-entertainment club that offers “Grown & Sexy” and “Grown Folks” nights.

Over the years, community leaders and police have frequently complained that the club has generated crime, noise and parking woes. As far back as 2000, police officials in adjacent North Miami vowed to crackdown after a series of shootings that killed at least one man leaving the club.

During the past decade, there’s been a slew of additional shootings associated with Coco’s. In one case, a rapper named Toro was gunned down near the club. In another, the club sued a rapper named Jim Jones over gunfire that erupted in the nightspot.

In December 2016, a 26-year-old man named Keon Crump was gunned down outside the club.

Cops have also targeted dope dealing there. In 2012, U.S. Homeland Security agents arrested a man nicknamed King Dread, who dealt Molly, marijuana and cocaine and weapons in the club’s parking lot. He was later sentenced to 12 years in prison. “Coco’s Lounge is known to law enforcement as a safe haven for criminals and a venue for narcotics trafficking,” agents wrote in court documents.

Christopher Nealy, center, with his legal team after a jury awarded him $8.7 million in damages stemming from gunshot wounds suffered at Coco’s strip club in December 2011. From left to right is legal assistant Shanika Marshall Brown, lawyer Reginald Mathis, Nealy, attorneys Bruce Jacobs and Anna Morales. - Jacobs Legal

In Nealy’s case, he was an invited VIP at the club in December 2011. At some point, a fight broke out inside the club. Nealy tried escaping through a back door, but security guards “funneled” him out the front door — where he was shot in the chaos.

The negligence lawsuit was not filed until 2014.

At trial, jurors heard that Nealy lost parts of his intestines and colon, and still has a bullet lodged in his leg. The club promised to pay his medical bills, but never did, his lawyers told jurors.

Gilliam, the club’s lawyer, said the real blame lies with Prophet, the shooter who was gunned down by security guards.

“We didn’t shoot at Mr. Nealy,” he said. “It seems like the jury didn’t have anyone to blame, so they blamed the deep pockets.”