Coyote Jacks, 1400 Cowart St., lost its beer license at a hearing Thursday morning in front of the Chattanooga Beer Board. Erin Wallen, an associate with the Berke and Berke law firm, was sent to request a continuance saying the two owners along with Russell King, the lawyer representing Mr. Berke, were all unavailable, had not been able to enter the building for evidence and were not aware of the hearing in time to prepare for it.
"How did Ronnie Berke not know about it?" asked board member Christopher Keene. It has been on the front pages of all newspapers and all over the TV since the shooting, and the Beer Board has met at the same time each month for years, he said. Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman, who is in charge of the Beer Board, said he had verified from the landlord and Chattanooga Police Department that the keys had been available to the owners at any time. Attorney Berke was served notice of the meeting and an attempt was made to serve Tammie Taylor on Wednesday but she would not come to the door. They were both given until 9 a.m. Thursday to respond yet neither did. The board voted to proceed with the hearing despite the owners not being present.
The charter for Bankable Holdings, LLC,, doing business as Coyote Jacks, had been invalidated by the state previously for not paying employment taxes, so it had been in violation of selling beer since that time. Mr. Berke had sent an email to say it would not reopen before the next Beer Board meeting, however it was noted that if the back taxes had been paid at any time, it would have put the business in good standing and the license from the state would be reinstated, permitting it to reopen. Attorney Reisman told the board that the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) had also been investigating for a permit suspension.
The beer board has already given the bar a pass, said Mr. Keene “This is the biggest case in Chattanooga in 20 years and I’m not leaving the door open again,” he said. "I feel like we would be letting down the people of Chattanooga if the board did not hear the case." This was the third time the business had been cited to the Beer Board for violations, but Chattanooga Police Officer John Collins told the board there had been many other incidents there since opening five years ago, that had not made it to the beer board. Some of them took place outside the building so did not qualify for a hearing. The number of calls from there to police have been much higher than at any other club in the area, said Officer Collins, and there have been 10 shootings and three homicides since it opened.
In the early morning of Oct. 6, Officer Collins was doing bar checks downtown with TABC officers, when they went to Coyote Jacks at 1:50 a.m. They were aware that an event hall in Knoxville had cancelled a party because of expected violence and that it had been moved to Coyote Jacks. He said the entertainment of several rappers, some with gang affiliations, had been heavily advertised with flyers and on Facebook. Watching from the parking lot, the officers felt the party was overcrowded.
The doorman told Officer Collins there were 419 inside the building, all on the upper floor where the party was. The guard at the door said, “If I was the fire marshal, I wouldn’t be happy, but I just do what I’m told.” The police were told that one security guard had attempted to shut down the party early, but had been told not to by Ms. Taylor, who was not present during the party. According to Captain Chuck Hartung with the Chattanooga Fire Department, the capacity is divided by floor. The basement and first floor were not being used that night and this event was upstairs space that is 4,077 square feet and has a legal capacity of 236. He told the board that there are two exits - the main entrance with a doorman and clicker to count occupants and a stairwell from a hall where bathrooms are.
The officers who went upstairs said it was so crowded people had to part so they could get by, and that officers were unable to fine one another. One officer had to help an employee get a person in a wheelchair down the steps. The air conditioning was not working and it was so hot and humid that glasses and body cameras fogged up and pools of water from condensation had accumulated on the floor and steps. If a fight had broken out, said Officer Collins, with people running, it could have caused a stampede.
After a phone call to the fire marshal and supervisor for the police department, Captain Will Jackson, instructions were given for the club to shut down immediately. That was approximately 2:10-2:15. The bouncers turned off the lights and music and people started leaving, said Officer Collins. About seven police personnel were there by then, attempting to get people to go and directing traffic.
As people left the building a large crowd was on the front patio. A fight started which the police were trying to break up, and then two gunshots were heard as the police approached. They found one person shot in the chest and attempted to do CPR but the victim later died. The scene was described as chaos with all the people stampeding out. “I’ve never seen anyone murdered 10 feet from the police. That’s how crazy it was,” said Special Agent Travis Patten.
A contributing factor to the loss of control over the crowd was attributed to the fact that there were no licensed security personnel on the premises. Despite people wearing shirts labeling them as security, most were untrained and unlicensed. It was verified that none of them worked for either of the two companies that supply security for most businesses. J. Hall Security’s owner said his employees are not allowed to work there. The ones working at Coyote Jacks that night were hired by the bar and paid $100 by the manager.
A witness that was in the bar that night, Linda Chann, is a former employee of Coyote Jacks and had worked there as a licensed security guard. She confirmed testimony from the officers and gave additional information. She said she just was out for the night and went to that bar wanting to make sure her friends who still work there were OK. There were “No Guns Allowed” signs and two guards doing pat-downs, but she said they were not done properly. “That’s a lot of people for two guards to check,” said Mr. Keene. The searches outside are to prevent knives, guns and mace from being taken inside. But a fight did break out upstairs, and she said she smelled mace but did not know if it was from a guard or a customer.
She said the occupancy was closer to 500 and that a security officer friend told her he had tried to close it down earlier, but when Tammy Taylor was notified, she gave instructions to open the back door, where there is no one counting, to let people in. Ms. Chann said that she did witnessed people being allowed to enter there.
In an emotional statement, she said that she really hoped that the board will not let Ms. Taylor and Mr. Berke open anywhere, knowing how they run that establishment and treat employees and customers. “They don’t care about safety of people,” she said.
A vote to revoke Coyote Jack’s beer license passed unanimously and started immediately.