This story was updated Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, at 8:40 p.m. with more information.
After initially blocking media coverage of a portion of a court hearing in the fight between Coyote Jack's nightclub and its property owner, Cow Art LLC, the hearing was delayed yet again on Friday.
Cow Art LLC terminated the nightclub's lease in October after the city of Chattanooga and the state moved to permanently close the crime-ridden club after the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Brandon Rogers, the third fatal shooting at or near the club since 2016. The city's beer board also revoked the club's beer permit.
Coyote Jack's representatives sued the beer board over the decision to revoke the beer permit, a complaint that was dismissed earlier this month. And the city, state and property owners' efforts to close the club have been delayed, with some hearings postponed until May.
But since the lease's termination, the club's owners have yet to vacate the property. An order filed earlier this month granted Cow Art access to the building, meaning the building owners can enter at whatever time they please so long as they notify club owners (coordinating a time and day is not required). But the landlords continue fighting to regain full possession of their building.
On Friday, co-owner Ronald "Ronnie" Berke, uncle of city Mayor Andy Berke and a partner at the family's law firm, appeared on behalf of Tammie Taylor, his co-owner, and Bankable Holdings — the company that controls the club — and asked for media to be sent out of the courtroom because he wanted to discuss an affidavit that included confidential medical information.
When reporters were allowed to return, Berke asked for more time to argue the eviction.
He noted that attorney Russell King had withdrawn from representing Bankable Holdings (the company's business license expired in July 2019) and Taylor, so the parties would need more time to retain new legal representation. Berke is representing himself as an individual named in the city's effort to close the club but does not represent Taylor or Bankable Holdings.
Last month, Berke asked for the hearing to be postponed until March because King was allegedly in Florida.
Hamilton County Chancery Court Judge Jeffrey Atherton granted the request and initially scheduled the hearing for early February. But after protest from Berke over scheduling conflicts, Atherton agreed to hold the hearing on Feb. 17.
Atherton added the condition that, if the club intended to "somehow" dispute its eviction, he would need an official statement asserting that intent.
"I need to have that information on that date [Feb. 17]," he said. "If I don't receive it at that time, then we'll hold oral argument" on the motion for eviction.
In the meantime, the club responded to the city's nuisance abatement, denying essentially all allegations made against it.
Back in October, the city asked a judge to declare Coyote Jack's a public nuisance. That shuttered the club.
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 club, however, argues that none of that kind of activity — including drunkenness — ever took place on its premises and that it or its employees never violated any laws or regulations.
The night of Rogers' killing, an event was taking place, and at least a few of the performers were known to have gang affiliations in Chattanooga and/or Knoxville, according to Chattanooga police. Regular neighborhood policing officers were in the area, as well as the department's gang unit, because there was reason to believe there would be a large showing for the performance.
But despite their concerns, police don't have authority to shut a business or event down without probable cause. Probable cause would include violence inside the club or overcrowding, over serving, or anything else that violates the beer board license.
Eventually, fire marshals did shut down the event due to overcrowding, which resulted in hundreds of people leaving at the same time, affecting pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the area.
Surveillance footage shown in criminal court during the preliminary hearing for the suspect in Rogers' killing — 24-year-old Jamycal Johnson — showed a packed dance floor.
But Coyote Jack's representatives claim the club was not overcrowded.
"The records of the [city] will show that [Coyote Jack's] was never overcrowded nor had exceeded the capacity approved by the agents and employees of the [city]," they wrote in their response.
Additionally, they allege state and city employees were who "precipitated" the events of that night.
The "employees of the [state and city] ... acted indiscriminately, recklessly and unprofessionally," the club claims, and "directly and indirectly caused or contributed to the disruption[.]"
But during Johnson's preliminary hearing, police stated the fight that led to Rogers' death is believed to be gang-related. Police had learned that Rogers, who they said was a known gang member, was told to start an altercation with a group of men, who police said were part of another gang.
Rogers was shot twice during the fight. He died on the way to the hospital.