Club 152 Makes Appearance in Environmental Court

By Bill Dries

The owners of Club 152 in the Beale Street entertainment district are due in Shelby County General Sessions Environmental Court Monday, May 20, for the first hearing on the injunction that closed the popular nightspot Thursday afternoon as a public nuisance.

The district had a good-sized spillover crowd from the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest when more than a dozen unmarked cars from the West Tennessee Drug Task Force turned onto Beale and an alley in back of Club 152 and served the papers.

The injunction alleges drug sales and violence at a club with a younger audience than other nearby clubs and businesses.

The law enforcement officers quickly emptied the club of employees and workers who joined a growing crowd of onlookers in the block of the district that has been the most successful part of the district during one of the busiest months of the year on Beale Street.

“If you paid for it, you get to drink it,” a Memphis police officer with Tim Helldorfer, director of the task force and chief investigator of the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office, told two men sitting street side. They quickly finished their drinks and left.

If past practice in such nuisance actions is any precedent, Club 152 probably will be open again soon albeit with new ground rules.

“It depends. Those conversations will begin with our office … with their lawyers,” said District Attorney General Amy Weirich. “It’s not our intent to shut businesses down – put them out of business. But if you conduct your business in such a way that creates criminal activity … we can’t tolerate it.”

During past nuisance injunction hearings, prosecutors usually set conditions for a business to reopen including signage and pledges to more strictly enforce laws.

That was the case in 2007 when another Beale Street bar, the Tap Room, was closed under an injunction citing drug sales in the club by employees and others during a six- month undercover investigation by the same multi-agency task force.

The closing of Club 152 comes five months after Club Crave at 380 Beale, just outside the formal boundaries of the entertainment district, was closed as a public nuisance for a second time. Weirich is seeking the permanent closure of the building as a nightclub and the city of Memphis is seeking the demolition of the building on the northeast corner of Beale and Fourth Street.

The court injunction served Thursday at Club 152 cites the owners of the club, Club 152 Operating Co. LLC, for allowing the sale of drugs to an undercover police officer numerous times since November 2012.

The West Tennessee Drug Task Force used an undercover officer from the Bartlett Police Department to make the drug buys.

“I’m not going to get into investigative techniques,” Weirich said when asked why a Bartlett police officer was used.

Weirich said her office is also pursuing felony criminal charges against those who allegedly sold the drugs – marijuana, cocaine, Percocet and Xanax – to the undercover officer.

“The drug activities at Club 152 occurred in front of management and in some instances by employees at the club,” said Helldorfer. “This is unacceptable.”

He cited numerous complaints about problems at the nightspot for prompting the undercover work.

The nuisance action also cites 130 police calls to the club from January 2012 to April 2013 for a variety of offenses including more than 20 fights inside the club and 37 arrests for offenses including firearms charges, assault and disorderly conduct.