This story was updated Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, at 7:41 p.m. with more information.
Owners of the Coyote Jack's nightclub can no longer serve beer in Chattanooga after a lengthy hearing by the beer and wrecker board Thursday morning.
Nearly two weeks after the third fatal shooting at or outside of the controversial club took the life of 19-year-old Brandon Rogers, the beer permit for Bankable Holdings LLC, which controls the club, was revoked by a unanimous vote of the board.
In light of 10 recent shooting incidents at the club's address — though none were in the club — over the last three years, the beer board revoked the club's permit. The LLC is owned by Ronnie Berke, the uncle of Mayor Andy Berke, and business partner Tammie Taylor. Neither were present at Thursday's meeting.
Erin Wallin, an associate at Ronnie Berke's law office, showed up to request a continuation on his behalf but was denied due to a lack of compliance with the city's request.
Ronnie Berke's attorney, Russell King, emailed the city asking for a continuation on the hearing since neither he nor his client would be able to attend Thursday's meeting, according to Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman.
Reisman said the city agreed to grant the continuation as long as the attorney provided a "firm" written statement ensuring that Coyote Jack's would not reopen before the Nov. 7 beer board meeting and that King or Taylor would accept service of documents from the city before Wednesday's 9 a.m. meeting.
While Reisman and Wallin went back and forth over whether an email from King constituted ensuring the club would not open, Taylor had still not been served documents regarding a recently filed nuisance abatement request by the city, potentially interfering with the first hearing on the matter that is scheduled for Tuesday.
The board voted to hear the case without a continuation and, after testimony from several law enforcement officials and a witness and former employee of the nightclub, voted to revoke the beer permit.
King later told the Times Free Press that he was out of town, that Ronnie Berke had a longstanding medical appointment he did not want to reschedule and that Taylor had experienced "medical and emotional" problems since the incident.
"Our goal is to get all people there that we could get to have relevant information, including our employees. What we want to do is get all the facts out. Get everything out, whether it helps or hurts us ... that was the agreement I thought we made," King said. "Mr. Berke has been in the process of divesting himself, but you'd have to ask them about it ... he had decided that he could get out of it for several reasons."
According to King, he was authorized by his clients to accept service if the city didn't file the nuisance abatement or hold the beer board hearing, but the city proceeded to file the abatement request, which violated their agreement. King then said he was no longer authorized to accept service.
Ronnie Berke has allegedly begun the process of relinquishing his ownership of the LLC to Taylor, but King was unable to confirm where he was in the process.
Several law enforcement officers spoke at the meeting to offer testimony about the night and early morning hours of Oct. 6, when the shooting occurred, describing the club as "extremely over capacity" and suggesting that if the shooting or any other emergency had taken place in the building, it would have been "mayhem" due to the crowd, extreme humidity and lack of licensed security.
Though officials struggled to nail down the actual occupancy that night and maximum occupancy for the third floor, which was the only one in operation the night of the shooting, the general estimate is anywhere between 419 and 550 people were on the third floor. The overall building's occupancy is 668, but the third floor's allowed occupancy is around 230, according to city officials.
Linda Chann, a patron and former security employee at the club, told the beer board that the security on Oct. 6 was insufficient for the crowd.
Chann said the club typically only had one female and one male security officer patting down patrons at the main entrance, but that a back door designed to be an exit only was staffed with only one security guard. She added that the night of the shooting she saw patrons coming in the exit with nominal security searches, making the number of occupants and the actual security of the club unclear.
Still, Chann said she does not believe the weapon used to kill Rogers was ever in the club and that it was negligence from the owners that allowed Coyote Jack's to have such an environment.
"I want to be sure that Tammy Taylor and Ronnie Berke are not able to open up another business in the city of Chattanooga," Chann said. "They don't care about their employees and they don't care about the other people around the city, so I want to make sure they are not able to open up another establishment around here. ... I am very happy they are not able to reopen Coyote Jack's and that they are not able to [sell beer] at another establishment."
The first hearing on the nuisance abatement petition is scheduled for Oct. 22 in chancery court. Reisman said the judge could rule on a temporary abatement as early as that day.
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 Taylor and 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 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.
"[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."
"There's a lot to leave to perception when there is this kind of relationship and it appears that some clubs and some people are getting different treatment and, for safety, these issues need to be handled the same way, regardless of the owner or any relationships they have," District 8 Councilman Anthony Byrd, who used to run multiple downtown clubs, told the Times Free Press. "We're going to have to look at setting guidelines for the beer board to make sure that all clubs are treated the same for the same incidents and violations."
Neither Ronnie Berke nor Taylor have responded to multiple emails, phone calls and in-person attempts by the Times Free Press to contact them for comment since the latest shooting.
King said he will not be at Tuesday's hearing, but he hopes the defendants will be granted a continuance to "find all the facts."
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.