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VOL. 124 | NO. 142 | Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nuisance Actions Keep Piling Up

By Bill Dries

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REPEAT OFFENDER: Memphis police closed Hughes Uptown, a North Memphis nightspot, over the weekend. It is the second time the club at Thomas Street and Firestone Avenue has been closed as a public nuisance.

When Memphis police arrived to close Hughes Uptown this past weekend, the North Memphis nightspot’s security guards bailed out of their golf cart and left behind two handguns – a .45 caliber and a .40 caliber semi automatic pistol.

Police closing out a seven-month undercover investigation seized the guns and arrested four people for selling marijuana to undercover cops. Among them was club owner Roy Hughes, who faces felony drug charges and was released on his own recognizance.

The Shelby County District Attorney General’s office is expected later this week to push for the permanent closure of the nightspot, which is considered so tough that club patrons once chased and shot at two Memphis police officers called to break up a fight there.

The club at Thomas Street and Firestone Avenue was closed temporarily as a public nuisance in 2006 when it was known as Club Hughes.

“Our position is that he’s had one free bite at the apple,” said District Attorney General Bill Gibbons as he and Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin stood on a vacant lot near the club. “It will be our position in court that Mr. Hughes should no longer be allowed to operate a club at this location. … We simply feel that at this point the only way to abate this nuisance is for the court to order Mr. Hughes to no longer operate the club. If he wants to operate an appliance store here, fine with me.”

Part of the club also includes a recording studio and Gibbons indicated his office will probably not oppose that re-opening.

Sour grapes

Hughes Uptown is one of several small bars in a four-block area that have a booming business. Some of the clubs are part of the city’s rhthym and blues heritage, featuring live performances by R&B greats.

The head of the New Chicago Community Development Corp. said he would like to see some kind of designation of the area to keep the bars but govern them as a group.

“I would love for this to have some sort of entertainment district designation, something like you would see on Beale Street, where you could take some of the tax revenue and put it into infrastructure improvement or façade improvement,” said Eddie Hayes III. “With this being a major highway, the question becomes are there any type of federal funds that can be attracted that can help you better garner the right type of commercial activity? The Belz (Enterprises) have a huge presence down the street. What can we do to attract industry or business back to their area?”

Hayes said the different uses can co-exist.

Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin said the other nightspots haven’t been a problem.

“We’re not getting the complaints to those places. And we’re not buying the dope out of those places … that we were here,” he said. “We come in here and it’s pretty open. We check all the other clubs too.”

Hayes and neighbors from the area watched as Gibbons and Godwin announced the latest in a string of nuisance actions and closings including a bar in unincorporated Shelby County, just outside Millington, and the High Point Pinch bar on Downtown’s north end.

Hayes said Hughes attracted a younger crowd than most of the other nightclubs on the stretch of Thomas near Firestone.

“We need an active commercial corridor,” Hayes told The Daily News. “But it needs to be the right kind of activity. … There was always some type of shooting or bar brawl going on.”

Take me to your leader

Hughes is due Friday before Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter, whose week promises to be busy.

Thorne Peters, the owner of Imbibrios, a bar in unincorporated Shelby County just outside Millington, also is due to answer separate drug charges and the nuisance action served on his club last week.

Like Hughes, Peters faces drug charges and, according to court documents, also smoked marijuana in front of undercover officers.

Unlike Hughes, Peters didn’t go quietly. As he was handcuffed and led to a patrol car last Thursday, Peters denied any drug use or drug dealing on his property. He also criticized Gibbons, saying his efforts should be more focused on violent crime.

Peters’ Web site features pictures of him smoking marijuana. And a blog entry dated this past April by Peters declares the he intends to “lay down the gauntlet and fall on the sword for all who cannot or will not.”

Peters wrote that he would act on April 20, 2010, a day that advocates of legalizing marijuana gather in public places to smoke the weed in defiance of laws banning its use.

He specifically vowed, in the entry, to “report to 201 Poplar (our local jailhouse) with a blazing blunt in my mouth and my dope sack in my pocket to demand that I be taken to their leader. Once inside their arcane system of injustice, I will stand mute to their mundane charges, as I do not recognize the right of this government to treat me like a criminal for breaking their arbitrary laws, of injustice.”

The drug charges are serious enough that Peters is being held on a $600,000 bond.

The nuisance action against High Point Pinch cites 10 drug buys by undercover police officers during the three-month investigation. And the officers say they saw marijuana used and sold openly in the bar by customers and security.

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