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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A police car is seen outside of Coyote Jack's as disorder prevention as the property owners gained access to the building on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

This story was updated Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, at 9:05 p.m. with more information.

The city of Chattanooga has asked a judge to declare Coyote Jack's a public nuisance, in an attempt to close the crime-ridden club following Sunday's fatal shooting, which was the third in just three years.

The city took legal action the same day the state moved to revoke the business's liquor license and property owners terminated the lease agreement, citing the club's lapsed business license and beer permit.

In a petition filed in Hamilton County Chancery Court on Friday — four days after 19-year-old Brandon Rogers, who police said was a known gang member, was shot and killed on the club's patio — the city argued the club, located at 1400 Cowart St., is a "public nuisance," citing the venue's high crime volume.

Police have been called to the address 470 times since the club opened its doors in January 2015, according to Chattanooga Police Department data.

Ten people have been shot there since 2016, three of whom died. And there have been nine "shots fired" incidents in which no victims were found.

Prior to 2015, there had been zero calls for shootings. A total of 13 calls were made to police between 2011 and 2014, the most common of which were simply labeled as miscellaneous reports.

 

Public nuisance

A nuisance is defined, in part, as "any place in or upon which" unlawful sale of liquor or any controlled substances, quarrelling, drunkenness, fighting or breaches of the peace are carried out or permitted, according to state law.

The petition names Coyote Jack's Saloon; Bankable Holdings LLC, the listed owner of the now-closed nightclub; and Tammie Taylor and Ronald "Ronnie" Berke, members and principal operators of Bankable Holdings, as defendants. It also names Cow Art LLC, the owner of the property at 1400 Cowart St. The property owners and the business owners are separate entities.

Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman said the city named Cow Art LLC in the petition because it seemed "fair," but he could not confirm the owners of the LLC.

According to Reisman, the city filed a petition of nuisance abatement, a process that waits for a judgment before the court intervenes, rather than an immediate order of nuisance abatement, because the city, state and property owners had effectively shut down the business.

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"[Coyote Jack's] has been stopped at this point," Reisman said. "The emergency element doesn't exist here ... they are not serving beer or alcohol at all right now."

After learning that Bankable Holdings had been dissolved, the city notified Ronnie Berke and Taylor that their permit was nullified, making beer sales illegal.

Ronnie Berke is the uncle of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who has largely stayed out of the dealings of his uncle, despite years of crime at the establishment.

"I am concerned any time a life is lost to senseless gun violence and my heart breaks for the victim's family. The establishment where this incident occurred involves a family member of mine, and as I've stated previously, I have explicitly requested to [Chattanooga Police] Chief [David] Roddy that I remain recused from any decision making whatsoever to prevent the appearance of favoritism or preferential treatment," Mayor Berke said in a statement after the most recent shooting.

However, some believe that the mayor's inaction contributes to an appearance of imbalance.

"I don't know what the relationship between [Mayor Berke] and his uncle is, but I know that there have been clubs that have been shut down for a lot less, so it leads you to believe ... " City Council Chairman Erskine Oglesby said. "It's a public nuisance and it infringes on the safety of everyone in the area and those who visit it. I think it needs to be shut down."

While the mayor declined to comment further on the issue throughout the week, he told a local radio host Thursday that "the situation at Coyote Jack's is awful and unacceptable," adding "nothing would have made me happier than for this place to have shut down."

While a CPD spokesperson said late Friday morning that the city had not been successful in attempts to reach Ronnie Berke or Taylor, Reisman said that the city had posted a notice of beer permit violations at the club Thursday. By Friday morning, the notice and other mail had been removed.

 

The property

Representatives of Cow Art terminated the lease Friday morning after it was discovered Bankable Holdings had been dissolved by the state in July after being 90 days delinquent on fines owed to the Office of Labor and Workforce.

Property owners felt they had the right to terminate the lease under a clause that required Bankable Holdings to remain in good standing with the state, police said.

some text Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Two people work on the lock of the door at Coyote Jack's on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Police responded to a "disorder prevention" call at Coyote Jack's on Friday morning as the representatives of the property owners tried to gain entry and meet with owners of Bankable Holdings, police spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said.

Property owners were unable to access the building because the locks had been changed by Taylor upon signing the lease, police said. A locksmith was called in order to gain entry, which caused security alarms to go off.

Taylor gave a local television reporter permission over the phone to enter the building and turn off the alarm, police said.

Additionally, a Chattanooga police regulatory officer was on scene to serve Taylor with a notification of beer board citations for overcrowding and "operating a disorderly place," in response to events on the evening of the most recent shooting.

"During a bar check at [Coyote Jack's], police found the top level to be extremely overcrowded," the notification reads. "As police attempted to safely empty the club, a large fight started, resulting in a shooting."

Taylor was not present when police attempted to serve the notice, and they have not been able to get in touch with Taylor, according to Myzal.

"We will continue to try to give her notification in person," Myzal said.

some text Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / A discarded bottle of tequila is seen across the street from Coyote Jack's on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

If they are unable to do so, the violation will still be read during the beer board's regular meeting on Thursday.

Police have spoken to Ronnie Berke, but he has said he is no longer a part of the business. However, neither police nor city officials have been able to confirm that he is no longer listed as an owner.

In fact, as of a few days ago, he was still listed as an owner through the state, according to Myzal.

"I think this is a step that will help the people in this area feel safer," Myzal said.

Police Chief David Roddy and other officers met with former club manager Daniel Weaver in July 2018 and requested the club increase security presence both inside and outside the business, as well as place additional cameras on the exterior to capture activities on the street and surrounding areas.

Security cameras were installed, but it's not clear how many of the other requests were met.

 

The event

The Oct. 5 event was originally scheduled to be held in Knoxville, according to Chattanooga police. It's not clear why the event was moved to Chattanooga, but at least a few of the performers are known to have gang affiliations in Chattanooga and/or Knoxville, according to police.

In a public Facebook post, a person close to event organizers claimed someone told Knoxville and Chattanooga police that "it's gone be a whole bunch or gang activity n shooting pose to be going on Saturday night n that they need to let da owner of the club kno if he want to save the Reputation of his building and companies don't let the show go on."

"SO F--- IT WE AT THE JACKS WIT IT SATURDAY SHOW MUST GO ON," the post continued.

Despite concerns, Chattanooga police don't have authority to shut a business or event down without probable cause, Myzal said. Probable cause would include overcrowding, over serving, anything that violates the beer board license or violence inside the club.

What’s Next

The beer citations will be heard at the Chattanooga Beer and Wrecker Board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 17.

The first hearing on the abatement petition is scheduled for Oct. 22 in chancery court. According to Reisman, the judge could rule on a temporary abatement as early as that day.

A hearing on the state ABC filing is scheduled for Dec. 20 in Nashville.

Taylor has not responded to multiple requests for comment since Sunday’s shooting.

Ronnie Berke refused to respond to multiple phone and in person requests for comment.

"Police have had conversations with [Taylor] in the past about concerns regarding crowds that some shows could bring and managing the number of people inside and just outside the club," Myzal said in an email. "She's also been given Ofc. John Collins' contact information and told that she could call at any time with questions she may have. To my knowledge, she's never called with any concerns or questions as it relates to performers/acts."

Local business owners and residents have said they witnessed increased police presence over the weekend. There were multiple factors for police presence in the area around Coyote Jacks, according to Myzal.

On Saturday night, there was reason to believe there would be a large showing for the performance. Regular neighborhood policing officers were in the area, as well as the department's gang unit.

More units were called once fire marshals ordered the club to shut down due to overcrowding, which resulted in hundreds of people leaving at the same time, affecting pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the area.

The night ended with the 19-year-old lying on the club's cement patio floor, bleeding from a gunshot wound.

He died on the way to the hospital.

Sarah Grace Taylor can be reached at 423-757-6416 or staylor@timesfreepress.com or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.

Rosana Hughes can be reached at 423-757-6327 or rhughes@timesfreepress.com or on Twitter @HughesRosana.

 

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