Large Brawl At River City Event Hall Detailed To Beer Board

Friday, June 6, 2014 - by Gail Perry

City Beer Board members were told Thursday that a concert held at the River City Event Hall, 3201 Wilcox Blvd., on April 15 ended in a large-scale brawl.

The Chattanooga Police Department had received intelligence that a shooting would happen at the event and were present in large numbers.The entertainment that night was advertised on Facebook to be rapper Pee-wee Longlegs who police said has known gang connections. Both Gwen Wills, the owner of the venue, and Jeff Hall, head of J Hall Security, told the beer board that known troublemakers had not been permitted to enter.

Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman asked if the performer was known when the security plan was set up. “We go by the numbers,” answered Mr. Hall. He said one security guard is required for every 50 customers.  That night there were 14 security guards inside the building to handle 296 people. There were also six armed guards provided by Global Security in the parking lot.

At one time during the disorder, there were also 25 city police officers present. Officer John Collins, who was the first to enter the building, described the chaos that took place, supported by a video of the scene. According to Mr. Hall, two females started a fight and their boyfriends joined in. When he first entered, Officer Collins saw a man passed out on the floor, ceiling tiles falling, an ottoman being hurled across the room and a metal crowd control post being swung like a ball bat. To add to the chaos, mace had been sprayed by the security guards and people were rushing to leave the building.

 “Did anyone have to go to the hospital?” asked attorney Reisman. "We made one arrest for possession of ecstasy that night," said Officer Collins. One man who was at the gathering died and 11 more were sent to a hospital from an overdose of ecstasy. It is suspected that the narcotic involved was purchased at this party but that testimony was not allowed at the beer board because toxicology results are pending.

Officer Collins said police had communicated with Ms. Wills that word on the street was that violence would occur that night. She said that she had been aware of the presence of rival gang members who were allowed in. Mr. Hall said, "Every rap show has gang members there. I’ve been in this business a long time and know a lot of gang members. All gang members don’t start problems.”

The main concern of police that night was to clear the area and make it safe rather than making an arrest. Once the building was cleared, the large crowd moved on to other parking lots four different times and the group was followed by police. All officers from three police teams around Chattanooga were pulled from their own areas to deal with the problem at the event hall. This occupied law enforcement from these districts for 35 minutes to an hour. By doing so, other areas in the city were left vulnerable without police presence, said Officer Collins.

 That night the location was rented out and operating as an event hall, but this party was not considered an “event” since Ms. Wills was selling beer by utilizing her own beer permit. Board member Ed Townson said that the owner had done everything the beer board required. Member Forestine Haynes questioned if the fight could have been prevented, and James Hobbs asked if one incident constituted a disorderly place. Chairman Phillip Sallee said that the owner showed lack of leadership and was responsible for who she rented the building to, adding that if the fight had happened in a bar, it would be considered a violation.

The charge of operating a disorderly place was punished by the beer board by issuing the penalty of either a seven-day suspension of the beer license or a $1,000 fine, at the option of the permit holder. The incident will also go in her file, which will be used if there is a future violation.

Board member Christopher Keene said that in the past, the board has been in the practice of giving three-day suspensions for first-time violations of the beer code. At the last meeting, the board heard six violations and there were six on the agenda again for Thursday. He said, “No one is listening.” He told the board that he had researched the punishments given by other municipalities and found that both Bradley County and Nashville issue 30-day suspensions for first offenses. Chairman Sallee responded, “I think that’s a good thing.”

Compliance checks made by the Chattanooga Police Department in collaboration with the Hamilton County Coalition resulted in finding six violations committed by convenience stores in the city on April 8. Underage buyers were sent into the stores and in each case were sold a beer. At 8:15 p.m. at One Stop Shop, 1221 Grove St., the buyer who was 18 was not asked to show an ID and the beer sale proceeded. When police entered to give a citation they had trouble locating the beer license and, while looking, found a bag under the counter containing narcotics. Loitering was also taking place in the parking lot. The penalty for this first offense was the suspension of the beer license for seven days beginning June 12.

Smoke Mania, 4767 Highway 58, also sold a beer to a minor without asking to see identification. In this case, the clerk was teaching her brother, who was not an employee of the business, to use a cash register. The clerk left her brother in charge while she left the building for about 20 minutes. The sale to the underage buyer happened during her absence. A first offense earned this business the loss of the beer license for seven days starting June 12.

Selling beer to a minor at Kanku’s #5, 702 Central Ave., caused that business to lose the privilege of selling beer for 30 days since this was the third violation the business has had. This was another case of the clerk failing to check the ID of the customer before the sale.

The clerk at Favorite Market, 1265 E. 3rd St., uttered, “Oh no,” when keying in information from the driver’s license of the underage buyer at that store. It was as if she had typed in the wrong thing, said the undercover customer. However, she made the sale anyway. She later notified her manager that she had typed in the wrong date. She also failed to notice the license bordered in red to indicate under 18. This business is certified under the Responsible Vendor Program so the board cannot revoke a license. They can and did issue the maximum civil penalty of a $1,000 fine.

A 14-year-old was operating the cash register at Tienda Maya, 1939 Central Ave., when the illegal sale was made there. The young man was helping to enter information into the machine because he understands the English language better than his father. The adult with him actually handled the beer during the transaction with the underage buyer. Because the store had two previous violations, it received the revocation of the license for 30 days to start June 12.

The license for Big H. Food Mart, 618 W. 38th St., was suspended for 14 days. In this case, the clerk confused the legal date of selling alcohol with that of tobacco products. Concern was shown by board members because this clerk had been employed at the store for 11 years and still was confused. This business had one previous violation.

The Southern League All-Star game will take place June 17 at Engel Stadium. It is being hosted by the Chattanooga Lookouts.  The night before the game, June 16, from 5-11 p.m. the Southern League Home Run Derby will take place at the stadium on E. 3rd Street. There will be beer tents and food carts available, said Steve Sullivanof the Lookouts. This special event was granted a license by a unanimous vote. 

Functioning as the Wrecker Board, Officer Collins gave an update on All-In-One Towing, 2905 Rossville Blvd. Owner of the business Paul Bales has been arrested twice for selling narcotics and is still in custody, he said. His towing equipment has been seized by the Chattanooga Police Department. He is effectively out of business, said attorney Reisman since he does not have the equipment that is required by city code. Officer Collins asked the board to formally revoke his position on the wrecker rotation list.  


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