The beer license for JJ’s Lounge, 2208 Glass St., was revoked in a close vote Thursday morning at the meeting of the Chattanooga Beer and Wrecker Board.
Despite their best efforts, the owners of the bar cannot overcome the environment, according to testimony. The location is in a high crime area with gang activity. Among other problems there, said board member Dr. Clark White, there is high unemployment, a high drop-out rate, high infant mortality and it is in a “food desert”. He added that he has spoken to senior citizens that reside in the area and they told him that they are scared at night and are under duress.
Owner of the club Jessee Burgess has implemented all the precautions that the beer board had recommended to make the business less prone to violence. A fence was put up around the parking lot with a no loitering sign. There are security cameras that record four locations in the parking lot, and there are three security guards present, one at the door and one positioned about 10 feet inside the door. Men that enter are patted down looking for weapons and women must open their handbags for inspection. There is a minimum age of 25 for males and 21 for females, and there is a dress code. Calls are made in a timely manner to the Chattanooga Police Department or to 911 when they anticipate trouble. One thing that might have helped to prevent a recent incident, said officer John Collins of the Chattanooga Police Department, was if they had a security company licensed by the state, as opposed to having a guard whose only training was from being a Marine for eight years.
All that could not stop a surge of violence that occurred in the parking lot in the early morning hours of May 28. Leslie Bailey, assistant to Mr. Burgess, testified that the night of the incident, there was one known gang member inside the bar. It was unclear why he had been admitted. Some customers alerted her to the fact that there were members from two rival gangs present. Ms. Bailey made an announcement over the PA system that “We’re going to party like grown folks.” She then called Gregory Joiner who was head of security and told him that they need to have two security people inside. He was outside at the time preparing to lock the gate of the parking lot which was customary once the maximum capacity of 88 customers had been reached.
One customer was escorting his mother past the pool table to leave when another man blocked her way. The two eventually exited and the man got his mother outside. He then returned to the club and said nothing, but started hitting the man who had gotten in their way when leaving, it was testified.
At this point, after the scuffle was moved outside, Ms. Bailey locked the door and at 12:51, called the main phone number for the Chattanooga Police Department. After waiting six minutes for officers to arrive, she said she heard a shot, so he called the police again. That time they arrived within two minutes.
Meanwhile, in the parking lot people had begun surrounding the car while Mr. Joiner was trying to facilitate loading the car with the man and his mother. The crowd appeared from an empty lot across the street from JJ’s Lounge. According to Joiner, those people had been denied entry to the club earlier in the evening, and as they customarily did, went across the street to that lot to sit in cars and play loud music. This group of around 10 rushed around the car and attacked Joiner, kicking, hitting, ripping off his shirt, knocking out four teeth and sending him to the hospital. During the assault, Joiner said he tried to fire a shot in the air to disperse the crowd, but in the melee, the gun got loose, went off and a bullet hit one of his attackers.
The club has no jurisdiction over what happens across the street, and the police department does not have enough personnel to babysit an empty lot, said officer John Collins. That location, however, is the source for much of the trouble that occurs in the area, he stated.
After hearing testimony from all the witnesses, Beer Board Chairman Christopher Keene said, “I don’t see how this gentleman can police the whole neighborhood”, referring to proprietor Burges. Board member Kevin McKenna said, “The people who go there tend to be violent,” and member Forestine Haynes said “the environment goes beyond their control and to some extent, the control of the police.” The final vote was 5-4 in favor of revoking the beer license for this establishment citing that it is a disorderly place.
The Beer Board also granted new licenses to several businesses. Restaurants include Taco Mac, 423 Market St., a sports bar with 28 locations in the South and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, 2110 Hamilton Place Blvd., that both required a new license because of an ownership change. Ay Caramba Mexican Food, 6312 Bonny Oaks Dr., a new, small family-run restaurant was also approved for a permit. Carry-out convenience stores, New Tobacco, 5813 Lee Highway, Suite #11 a new business, and three locations of Delta Express, 4711 Brainerd Road, 3410 Brainerd Road and 3131 South Broad St., received a carry-out license for beer because of a name change.
Three special events beer permits were approved. Jennifer Berz, representing Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon, a swim, bike, run competition, sponsored by the Chattanooga Track Club, was given a permit for the event that will span three days. The track club will not be selling beer, but serving it to 300 volunteers at a party on Friday from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. and to participants and volunteers on Saturday from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. The club has established a wrist band system to identify age and so were approved.
The annual Fourth of July celebration at Coolidge Park to be held on July 3 was given a license for Pops on the River by Chattanooga Presents. They will use the same servers and system for checking age as they use at Nightfall concerts at Miller Plaza.
A Mexican Band Concert, actually two events planned for June 29 and July 13 at the National Guard Armory, applied for a beer license. When it was revealed by the fire marshal's office, that the building has no sprinkler system, the permit was issued with the understanding that the maximum capacity could be no more than 299 people. The promoters had planned on attracting between 800-1,000 guests. Acknowledging that the lower capacity will present a problem to the organizers, the board granted the license for June 29, and the promoter will re-appear July 5 before the beer board concerning the second concert. If the crowd exceeds 299, the Chattanooga Police Department and fire marshal will close it down.
The board members functioning as the Wrecker Board heard a request from Yates Towing represented by attorney Doug Cox. The wrecker company has a contract with certain trucking companies, which specifies that Yates Towing be called if one of their vehicles has a traffic mishap, regardless of whether Yates happens to be the next towing company on the city’s rotation list.
In the last year, Yates isdisputing three incidents concerning which towing company had been called to clear up a wreck. The first involved a Warner Enterprises truck that had flipped and Guy Yates from Guy Yates Wrecker Company was called despite the contract with the other company. In this case, the trailer had large lettering of Dollar General on the side. There was only a small sticker on the window to indicate Warner Enterprises. The driver is responsible for telling the responding police which company to call, but in this instance, told them to use the rotation list. The company lost $650 on this mistake.
The second and most significant of the three mistakes was in June 2011 when a Western Express vehicle had a wreck. That company has a contract with Yates Towing, which was given that call, however, it was charged to the towing company as one of his rotation calls. Attorney Cox requested that the following call received by 911 should have gone to Yates as well since it should still be the next in line on the rotation list.
In May 2011, a Schneider truck which has a contract with Yates Towing, wrecked, but Guy Yates Towing was dispatched. Attorney Cox acknowledges that these were all mistakes, and asked the board to reinstate two calls to Yates Towing that it had been denied. These are significant losses because the charge is by the weight of the truck, he said. The first incident was a loss of $650. The second a loss of $10,000-$15,000 and the third cost the company several thousand dollars.
Chairperson Kevin McKenna said obviously the contract and rotation list is not working, and told the board that he would call a special meeting before the next official one on July 5, where the board will discuss the matter with attorney Cox, a representative from Hamilton County 911, a representative from DOT, and officer Collins in hopes of devising a plan that works better. The Wrecker Board will re-visit the request by Yates Towing to reinstate the rotation calls they missed. Attorney Cox said the first consideration should be to protect people to clear up a highway wreck fast, preventing secondary wrecks and so that people can get to work on time.