Tavern owner's lawsuit claims 'campaign of harassment' by LaFayette officials

Tavern owner's lawsuit claims 'campaign of harassment' by LaFayette officials

June 25th, 2014 by Tim Omarzu in Local Regional News

Doug and Glenda Ellis, left, of Chickamauga, Ga., enjoy lunch at the Chattanooga Street Tavern in LaFayette, Ga.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

LaFAYETTE, Ga. - Michael Lovelady was welcomed when he returned to his hometown of LaFayette in 2010 and made substantial investments there. He opened a restaurant and a pub and restored a strip of vacant commercial buildings anchored by the burned-out Mars Theater.

Then his son, Gary Lovelady, exchanged explicit photographs with the wife of City Councilman Christopher Davis, according to details of a civil lawsuit filed in Walker County Superior Court.

That action spurred Davis to conspire with city police to ruin the Loveladys' businesses and run them out of town, the lawsuit filed by Michael Lovelady's Ringgold-based attorney Clifton "Skip" Patty alleges.

"Davis approached Lovelady and demanded that Lovelady make his son Gary leave town," Patty wrote. "When he refused, Davis vowed that he would run the plaintiffs out of LaFayette and out of business."

The lawsuit, which on Monday was reassigned to U.S. District Court in Rome, Ga., alleges that the Loveladys' civil rights were violated in what Patty described as a "campaign of harassment." It names Davis, LaFayette Police Department Chief Benji Clift and Assistant Police Chief Stacey Meeks as "conspiring" and "acting in bad faith and with malice." The lawsuit says other "co-conspirators" may be named later.

Davis couldn't be reached for comment late Tuesday. Those named in the lawsuit haven't yet filed a response.

J. Anderson Davis, the attorney for the city, Clift and Meeks, is out of state and couldn't be reached for comment at the Rome, Ga., law firm Brinson Askew Berry. Davis' attorney, David Archer, of Archer and Lovell in Cartersville, Ga., said lawyers aren't supposed to comment on pending cases. Archer expects to file a response in federal court in a week or two.

Pub's license pulled for 'no reason'

Davis, Meeks, Clift and Councilman Ben Bradford met on Feb. 21, Michael Lovelady's lawsuit states, to discuss Lovelady's Chattanooga Street Tavern, an English-style pub at 123 N. Chattanooga St. near the Mars Theater.

Around 2 p.m. that Friday afternoon, the lawsuit says, Clift and Meeks shut the tavern down.

"Clift took the license from the wall and loudly announced in the tavern, 'Last call, finish up and get out.'"

Michael Lovelady

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

Clift wouldn't give Lovelady a straight answer as to why the tavern lost its license to pour beer and wine, according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, the police chief initially said it was because alcohol had been served at a Feb. 14 fundraiser at the Mars Theater. Lovelady said that wasn't his party. Clift then said it was because the pub served minors, which Lovelady denied. Then Clift said it was because Lovelady had liquor on the premises. Lovelady invited Clift and Meeks to search the pub, the lawsuit says, but they declined.

The police chief "refused to say why, refused to state the reason" for suspending the pub's license, according to Lovelady's lawsuit.

Clift and Meeks didn't have the right to pull the pub's pouring license, the lawsuit argues, because city ordinance required a written complaint and a City Council hearing to suspend the license. The police department violated Lovelady's right to due process under the U.S. and Georgia constitutions and state law, Patty argues.

The lawsuit cites other instances in which the Loveladys' civil rights allegedly were violated.

Councilman Davis told Lovelady's tenant Mandi Mullican that if she wanted to do business in LaFayette, she had better move out of Lovelady's building, the lawsuit states.

The suit also states that Michael Lovelady applied for a $100,000 loan from LaFayette's Downtown Development Authority.

On March 20, the day before the loan was due to close, Lovelady was informed by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs that loan had been put on hold pending the outcome of a hearing on the suspension of the pub's license.

The loss of the loan and suspension of the pouring license hurt business, said Lovelady's lawsuit, which seeks damages and attorneys' fees.

'Out-of-control police force'

On April 28, Patty wrote, LaFayette police officers illegally entered Michael Lovelady's home without a search warrant and examined his guns and personal papers.

On the afternoon of April 29, Officer Stacy Lee Blaylock arrested Gary Lovelady for allegedly driving without a license.

"Gary was not arrested while driving, but on a warrant that someone had seen Gary driving a car," Patty wrote. "The warrant had not been returned to the Magistrate Court."

When Michael Lovelady went to city police headquarters on April 30, Meeks confronted him and threatened to arrest Lovelady, Patty wrote.

"Meeks was threatening, hostile and belligerent," Patty wrote.

"LaFayette has refused to take any meaningful action to control its out of control police force."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.