The Chattanooga Beer & Wrecker Board voted 3-2 on Thursday to drop a citation given to the Blue Light nightclub alleging failure to report a disturbance and operating a disorderly place.
The Blue Light was before the board because Chattanooga Police Officer Randy Petty filed a report on Jan. 22, 2021, saying that a patron of the bar called police about an alleged sexual assault and fight inside the club — and the club management did not.
The alleged victim told Petty on Jan. 22 that shortly before 1 a.m. she had been sexually assaulted inside the club by a man who slapped her on the rear end. In the report, she said she then turned and slapped him back, and a scuffle broke out. She said a short while later a female punched her in the face. She, and not the bar, later called the police, and Petty showed up around 2 a.m. to take the report, according to the officer.
The woman and her friend were shown in Petty's body camera video describing the incident. Security at the club was later shown on the same video saying that the woman told them of the sexual assault and that at that time, a woman came up and punched the alleged victim in the jaw.
The security person then said on the video that the alleged troublemakers had been escorted out of the bar.
Blue Light attorney Scott Maucere and club co-owner Brian Joyce showed about 12 minutes of video taken inside the club and pointed at the DJ booth, where the incident was alleged to have happened, showing that it was business as usual and no disorder had taken place during the alleged time frame.
They did not show video of the front door, where the punch was alleged to have taken place, because they didn't know about the location until they heard it mentioned in Petty's video, they said.
Board member Owen Seaton questioned Maucere and Joyce about the security guard's comments, and Seaton also said that an accusation of sexual assault should be taken seriously and should have been reported by the bar. He also mentioned that the Blue Light had already been cited for alleged similar violations in November, and managers should have been aware that it is their obligation to report and let the people whose job it is to handle such matters do their jobs.
Joyce argued that he was before the board on Thursday to address the Jan. 22 incident only and that the video he brought showed that no sexual assault had taken place.
Joyce said the venue takes accusations of a sexual assault seriously, but that his staff didn't find any evidence that one had taken place, so no call was made. He said that hearing that a punch was thrown at the club's front door on the video was the first time he was made aware of it. A motion to drop the violation was made, and the board members made their vote.
Separately, the club is appealing six citations handed down by the board in November charging several other violations. It returns to Chancery Court on Aug. 30-Sept. 1 for more arguments and testimony in front of Judge Jeffrey Atherton.
Calandra Smith, a coordinator with the Hamilton County Coalition, had questions for the board about policy. The Hamilton County Coalition is certified by the city to teach the beer code and to certify staff and owners of bars, restaurants, clubs and retailers who sell beer within the city. Smith said she was confused by the board's decision based on what she had been teaching, which is that a club or bar owner is required to report a disorder to the police.
"I got lost somewhere in this piece," she said in regard to the board's decision to essentially dismiss the citations. "I'm confused about what I just saw."
Smith addressed the board during the public comments of the meeting, and her questions echoed comments she made in front of the board on Feb. 17 after board members questioned the definition of a disorder. She told the board then that a disorder is a key part of her training, and she stressed there is "zero tolerance," meaning it is not up to the venue staff to try and determine to what degree a disorder should be dealt with and reported.
She said back in February that she emphasizes that someone at the venue needs to call even if things do not escalate into punches being thrown. She said then that it is not unusual for a disorder to appear to be over, and then things can "turn left quickly and people have lost their lives.
"This is a section [of the training] we take very seriously," she said.
She said on Thursday that she was surprised to hear the Blue Light security guard say that he witnessed the woman get punched as she was reporting a sexual assault to him, and was further surprised to learn that no call was made to police.
During her comments in front of the board after the decision, Smith said that "(management) is still required to report it. They saw it and still didn't report it. So, I'm confused."
Joyce testified before the vote that his staff looked into the incident that night and didn't find any evidence that a sexual assault had taken place and that his staff escorted the alleged perpetrators out of the club.
"They did their job, and I'm proud of them," he said.
The board also voted to drop a citation charging failure to report and operating a disorderly place at Westbound, another club on Station Street. Video from the incident on Dec. 18, 2021, showed a man trying to enter the club and being denied by security.
Manager Michael Hardin told the board the man was intoxicated and denied entry, and the video showed him being led away by two female friends.