A settlement that would have allowed the Blue Light, 43 Station St., to keep its beer license was rejected by the Chattanooga Beer Board on Tuesday morning. To take effect, the agreement would have had to be accepted by the chancellor, the city, the mayor of Chattanooga, the Blue Light and the Chattanooga Beer Board. With the rejection, the case will be returned to the Chancery Court and decided by Judge Jeff Atherton.
The bar, located in the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex, had six violations of the city’s beer code after being open just four months.
At the November Beer Board hearings, the severity of penalties increased as the number of violations were heard. The last two hearings were for the failure to report a disorder to the police, which received a penalty of a 30-day suspension with an option to pay a $1,000 fine. And the license was suspended for the final violation of operating a disorderly place. Both of those violations occurred on Halloween night,, Oct. 31, 2021.
Those were the only two cases included in the mediation. The agreement that resulted included that the Chattanooga Police Department would have officers integrated into the security plan along with the licensed security personnel hired by the bar. The number of each would be specified. There would be no additional failures of reporting disorders and no other sales violations during the eight-month probation period that would end in March 2023. If there were any failures to comply to the conditions, all bets were off. The Blue Light would also have to pay $1,000 to the Beer Board and pay mediation fees. This arrangement was contingent upon approval from the Beer Board.
Issues that the board members had with the mediated agreement included the fact that a pending seventh violation occurred on Jan. 22 that had never been heard by the Beer Board. This incident had the same charges as the violations on Oct. 31 for the failure to report a disorder by telephone and operating a disorderly place. If the mediation agreement had been accepted by the board, those charges would have been dismissed.
Board member Vince Butler wanted verification that all employees in addition to the bar owners, Brian Joyce and Joseph Bruns, had received professional training in selling beer. And he wanted to add that requirement before giving approval.
Board Member Tiffany Bell would like for the requirement relating to security to be more detailed, such as the number of guards and police and the name of the security company.
Board Member Monica Kinsey said that clearer delineation of each property on Station Street was needed so each bar would know the exact areas they are responsible for outside their own buildings, such as the patios and the areas of the street. Station Street and the shared parking lots is a different situation than in a conventional bar or restaurant where the owner is responsible for the parking lot and property around their buildings.
Mr. Butler also said he had reservations about how Brian Joyce handled the situation after the first hearing. The Beer Board was vilified by him and “It doesn’t seem he understands the gravity of the incidents and how they were handled. He needs to take it seriously, and he needs to take a look back and understand how he acted and what he was saying," said Mr. Butler. Mr. Joyce, who is a local radio personality, was not present Thursday morning.
Two members of the public were given time to address the board regarding the Blue Light. Michael Alfano, owner of The Comedy Catch that is next door, said that in November he had told the Beer Board about a lot of disorders at the Blue Light on Halloween night. The disorders have continued and he said so has the attitude of the bar personnel, even after the action taken in November. He also cited a “big, gray area” for defining the responsibility of bar owners for the buildings and the street. He said that he had plenty of business while adhering to the rules but everybody has concerns about safety. But he said he does not feel like the alarm has been heard by the Blue Light.
The current manager for Westbound Bar, Michael Hardin, told the board that Blue Light already has seven or eight security officers, the amount is not the problem, but he said they do not protect the public. He said people routinely jump over railings around the patio bypassing security at the door. After a shooting occurred in the parking lot in December, he said the shooter returned to Blue Light. Mr. Hardin said he told Brian Joyce the shooter was inside, but he did nothing. “That’s their mentality,” he said. Since the Blue Light opened, police calls have increased by 200 percent on Station Street, he said, “The problem is that he doesn’t know how to run the business.”
Mr. Hardin said all the violence has severely affected business in the district. He estimates a reduction of about 20 percent and that said Stir has lost the most customers. He urged the board to reject the mediation offer.
After the vote to reject the proposal, with only Dan Mayfield and Tiffany Bell voting to accept it, and Tara Viland abstaining, the board moved forward with hearing the Jan. 22 violation over the objection of Blue Light attorney Scott Maucere. He said he felt ambushed. “Your objection is noted but we will hear it anyway,” said Board Chairman Bill Glascock. The Blue Light had received notice by way of the citation and by public notice when the agenda for the meeting was posted.
On Jan. 22, a sexual assault of forceable fondling and a physical assault occurred inside the Blue Light. According to the police report, it started when a black male “slapped a woman on the butt” and she returned the slap. The man then punched her in the face and his sister then threw a drink in the victim’s face and also slapped her. The security present did not see the altercation when it started but the manager that night agreed to email surveillance video to the police. That was never done. The bar that night failed to notify the police that a disorder had occurred, which is a requirement of having a beer permit and the same reason that the bar’s beer license was suspended in November. It was the victim that made a call, not employees of the bar, it was stated.
Attorney Mercere said it was his view that it never happened because there was no evidence present to support any of the allegations.
Beer Inspector Sgt. Jason Wood told the board he had seen body camera video from the police officer at the scene. City Attorney Emily O’Donnell said that a police report can be considered sworn testimony. The board chose to pass the hearing to the next meeting on Aug. 4 and asked for all parties involved to be present along with the police video.
Chairman Glascock is stepping down and Thursday was his last meeting as a Beer Board member and chairman of the board. Monica Kinsey was chosen to follow him in the position of chairman and Vince Butler will serve as vice chairman. Cynthia Coleman was elected to be the secretary of the board.