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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Go Clubbing in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG -- Local politicians, night club patrons and proprietors in St. Petersburg are in an uproar over back-to-back police raids on a popular venue last week in a manner that witnesses described as violent armed robberies.

Police said the raids on Club Griboyedov last Thursday and Friday nights were routine drug busts.

But in the course of the raids, witnesses said, dozens of police in black masks beat people with rifle butts and robbed both the club and its customers, taking everything from bottles of vodka to cellular phones to office supplies.

Several of the club's patrons said in interviews that officers of the OMON -- the Russian special forces police -- marched them out of the club and forced them to lay face-down in the snow for about an hour while rifling through wallets and handbags, stealing money.

Witnesses and club management say one club employee had three of his ribs broken, while several customers were badly cut and bruised by the 12 OMON officers, who kicked in the door of the club at midnight Friday.

"They ordered us to lie down on the floor and then started arbitrarily kicking people and beating them with rifle butts," said club co-manager Mikhail Sindalovsky in a telephone interview.

He said on both evenings officers had helped themselves to drinks at the bar while others searched the premises. Sindalovsky said the police left with 1.5 million rubles ($265) from the office safe, two cameras, 40 rare CDs, a video camera, 30 video cassettes and a number of pens from his desk.

Police also relieved a customer of his cell phone, Sindalovsky said.

Club bartender Alexander Khalitov, adding to that tally, said 10 bottles of vermouth and five bottles of vodka were discovered to be missing after the raid.

Club owners Anton Belyankin and Mikhail Sindalovsky -- also of the popular rock group Dva Samolyota -- took to the airwaves Wednesday on Radio Baltika to publicize the event and demand restitution for police brutality, as well as the return of everything from journalists. A spokesman for the police press office, in his turn, said he knew nothing of the incident. Dovachesky said the raids were set in motion after police received a "series of anonymous phone tips" that Griboyedov visitors were in possession of marijuana.

But Club Griboyedov management says it did complain after the first raid Thursday. Sindalovsky's co-manager, Anton Belyankin, said he visited the precinct early Friday morning to file a formal complaint, which he said was written up by an officer using one of the pens that OMON had stolen.

In the wake of Thursday's raid, police arrested three teenagers on marijuana possession charges. On Friday, fearing a reprise, Club Griboyedov had kept its doors locked whenever possible.

Citing those locked doors, Dovachesky said, "Probably, more than the usual amount of force was used [to open them]."

If reaction among the strange bedfellows of rock "scenesters" and city legislators is any indication, however, the stoney police silence may not be enough.

Discussion at the popular Manhattan Club the day after news of the raid broke centered around petition drives and class-action lawsuits.

City assembly member Alexei Livorovsky said in an interview Wednesday he would use his clout to push for an investigation at the city prosecutor's office, while another deputy shook his head in disbelief when shown a photograph of the incident.

OMON units long ago acquired the status of apocalyptic legend on the St. Petersburg rock music scene following violent raids on other clubs like The Tunnel and the now-defunct TaMtAm.

Last year, the TaMtAm was subjected to almost weekly searches that saw customers detained in jail overnight, only to be released the next day without having been charged. The Tunnel was the target of several OMON raids in late 1995, including one in which officers assaulted a disk jockey visiting from Germany and knocked out several of his teeth.

Police spokesman Alexander Dementyev said police need nothing more than "a well-grounded suspicion of possible criminal activity" to dispatch the OMON on a raid.

Though OMON officers are required by law to show identification at the time of such raids, they do not need a warrant for search and seizure. Griboyedov patrons and club management said the OMON showed no identification during the raids.

Searches on suspicion have also drawn fire from foreign residents of St. Petersburg who claim to have been robbed by police during routine document checks. American tax consultant Jim Beatty has filed suit against officers from the 43rd precinct on the Petrograd side accusing them of stealing $100 from his wallet when he was stopped for a passport check last December.

News of Beatty's decision to file that formal complaint brought forth several more members of the expatriate community who said they had been shaken down by police during document checks. Police have so far made no headway investigating those incidents, Dementyev said.

Additional reporting by Sergey Chernov.