VOL. 128 | NO. 104 | Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Beale Club Reopening About Timing
By Bill Dries
The negotiations to reopen one of Beale Street’s busiest and most profitable nightspots were about not missing one of the busiest Downtown weekends of the year and how to handle the allegation that some employees of Club 152 either sold drugs or were complicit in drug sales in the club.
Negotiations on conditions for reopening Club 152 began almost immediately after the Beale Street business was closed after it was alleged to be a public nuisance.
(Daily News File Photo)
A day into that reopening, a patron inside the club was wounded in a stabbing and on the same block, there was what police reports described as a “stampede” that shattered windows at A Schwab, across the street.
Club 152 reopened Friday afternoon, May 24, a week and a day after it was closed by the West Tennessee Drug Task Force and the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office with a court injunction alleging it was a public nuisance.
For seven months, an undercover investigation by the task force using a Bartlett police officer found evidence of drug sales inside the club. The petition to General Sessions Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter also cited numerous police calls to the club.
The club closed on the first day of the Memphis in May International Festival World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest before a healthy late afternoon crowd of perhaps 100 tourists snapping pictures.
It was the second weekend of a month-long festival in Tom Lee Park that generates the largest crowds of the year in the entertainment district, which is within walking distance.
Negotiations on conditions for reopening are the standard next step with such nuisance petitions when the business involved has never been cited before. And the talks began immediately. Potter monitored the talks.
“We did this yesterday and it seems like we did this Monday,” Potter said Friday from the bench.
The settlement agreement negotiated by prosecutors and club owners and approved by Potter includes firing all club employees alleged in the nuisance case to have sold drugs at Club 152 or to have been “complicit in the nuisance activity.” They are also barred from coming to the club even as customers.
Mandatory random drug testing and background checks of all club employees is also a condition and the club owners will pay the drug task force $4,000 to reimburse the task force for the cost of the investigation.
“Deviation will incur the wrath of the court,” Potter said as he signed the order and complimented Ted Hansom, attorney for the club owners and prosecutor Katie Ratton on working “diligently” toward the settlement.
For Hansom, a critical point was the idea that the club owners were reacting solely because of the action by prosecutors.
When Potter allowed the owners access to the club Tuesday without a reopening, club employees were immediately summoned to a meeting and drug tested, “which is a quick thing to do,” Hansom added.
“I would be concerned with what the substance was,” Hansom said. “I will tell you if somebody showed positive for smoking marijuana and they had been working for you five or 10 years, we want to get them some help. We want to address that problem. Are we going to step out and fire them? The answer would be no.”
The settlement says the employees will be drug tested randomly. It doesn’t say they have to be fired if they fail.
As for those alleged to have sold drugs or who allegedly saw drugs being sold, Hansom again emphasized timing.
“We had terminated some people within a six-week period prior to this ever happening,” he said. “We haven’t terminated anybody shall we say – other than the fact that now that they have charged some people we anticipate they will not be permitted back in the club. They are presumed innocent. But we don’t need them working there while it’s pending.”
Two employees face criminal charges for selling drugs during the undercover investigation.
At stake in the closing is the reputation of high-profile club owners including Memphis Ticketmaster general manager Charlie Ryan, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau President Kevin Kane and veteran restaurant and nightclub operator Bud Chittom.
While the club might have had quite a different reputation than its owners, Hansom said they had attempted to get a handle on that reputation.
They contacted then-District Attorney General Bill Gibbons about the problem just before he left the position in late 2010 to become state commissioner of safety and homeland security. And they hired their own undercover investigators as well as talked with the commander of the Memphis Police Department’s entertainment unit, according to Hansom.
District Attorney General Amy Weirich said the day of the raid that the “law-abiding businesses and patrons of Beale Street deserve better than what Club 152 has allowed to happen.” With the message delivered, Ratton, a week and a day later, was willing to give the club owners credit.
“I would say we reached an agreement pretty quickly. From the start, Club 152 has been pretty cooperative,” she said. “They are not happy with drugs on Beale Street any more than we are.”