Two bars that have been penalized multiple times for offenses relating to the Chattanooga beer code appeared before the city’s beer board again on Thursday morning on new charges.
Coyote Jacks Saloon, 1401 Coward St., was facing three charges - hours regulated, denying access to police and employees consuming alcohol while at their place of employment. On Dec. 30, 2017, Chattanooga Police received an anonymous call complaining about noise coming from Coyote Jacks. Officer Edward Buckman said he, along with two other officers and another in training, went to the front door, knocked and flashed lights to get the attention of three people sitting at a table. The police were ignored for about a minute before one man got up and went upstairs, and the other two “scurried off,” said Officer Buckman. Another man then appeared and let them inside. Officer Buckman said that man had the signs of being intoxicated.
The police heard more people upstairs and asked for them to come down. None did so. The police then went up and knocked on a closed door where six-seven people were hiding including the owner, in a small office space, said Officer Buckman. When the door opened he said he smelled the strong odor of marijuana and was given several differing answers about what they were doing in that room. When taken downstairs, all nine people in the building were ID’d.
The man who was seen going upstairs was a security guard for the business. He said he did not let the police in since he did not have a gun and because he had been instructed that protocol was for a general manager to open a door that had been locked after the closing time of 3 a.m. He said that he had gone in search of a GM and, while upstairs, had told the owner to close the door because “I didn’t know what was about to happen.” A second GM, who was downstairs at the time, actually opened the door for the police.
Tammy Taylor, part owner of the bar, told the board that people were in the office “planning a party” and trying to decide what to do for the following night, which was New Years Eve. Another person there was repairing a cooler. The noise complaint came from loud music while testing two new speakers. She said she was scared when she was told people were at the door and so gathered the employees who were upstairs into the small room.
All the video equipment and screens are in that room, said Keith Riesman, assistant city attorney, and two parked police cars were visible on the recordings. When asked if she had seen them, Ms. Taylor answered no and that she was skeptical about who the men at the door were because they could have “just been dressed up as police.”
"Did you not call to verify if police were there?" asked board member Trevor Atchley. Board member Andre Harriman asked, “If you were that scared, why didn’t you call 911?” "If they had been attacking my employees, I would have called," she said.
The building was locked and secured after closing, police were allowed in and were not denied access to anywhere, and there was no evidence of any employee drinking, said Russell King, the attorney representing the bar. "We have nothing to hide," he said. "We were doing everything we should do."
The board agreed about one of the accusations. A motion to dismiss the charge of hours regulated, passed unanimously, with Attorney Reisman saying that employees are allowed between 3-8 a.m. unless they are drinking alcohol. A motion to dismiss the charges of denying access and of employees consuming alcohol, failed to receive five votes in favor, meaning no action could be taken. These two violations will be heard again at the beer board meeting on Feb. 15.
Sharee James, sister of the victim who was killed outside of Coyote Jacks, for the second time told the beer board members that even though there was not a fight in the club before the shooting that took place outside in the parking lot, her two brothers had been followed around inside the bar by gang members. She said “I won’t rest until they’re closed down.” She said, "It is about keeping my brother’s name clean."
An owner of Skyzoo, Leonardo Dacoregio, another business that has had many fines imposed by the beer board in the past, said that he calls police in response to all incidents that are in violation of the beer code. On the night of Dec. 23 he called to register a fight that broke out between a female customer who was assaulted by 10-12 other females. The violation was due to the fact that the call was made on his cell phone rather than on a land line. The beer code says that a business must have a land line, which automatically registers its location when a call is made to the police or to 911. Some cell phone calls register an address and some do not.
Mr. Dacoregio said he had been instructed to call a non-emergency police phone number unless it was an emergency. He said that night there had been a fight with people pushing each other and falling, but he told the dispatcher that no response was needed from police just for them “to hear screaming and hollering at each other.” He said he had used a cell phone because he was outside attempting to manage the fight and the land line was inside in his office. He said the business has a land line in order for it to meet the beer board’s requirements, but he makes most calls to the police from his cell phone. There is nothing in the code saying that he cannot use the cell phone to make the calls, said Doug Cox, attorney representing Skyzoo. “Why hasn’t this been an issue for the last five years?” he asked.
That call was not automatically registered or recorded since it came from a cell phone and sent to a non-emergency number. It required repeated probing for Officer John Collins, who is assigned to the Chattanooga Beer Board, to verify the call had been made.
The board was divided over what was referred to as a “technical violation” and failed to get five votes to dismiss the charge. It will be heard again at the March 1 meeting of the beer board.