It's time to padlock Coyote Jack's, the downtown restaurant, bar and nightclub in Southside that in less than five years and several rebrandings has been the scene of three fatal shootings, 10 non-fatal shootings, 23 calls to police to report "shots fired" and 470 total requests for police assistance.
The last fatal shooting occurred early Sunday morning, claiming the life of 19-year-old Brandon Rogers who was shot on the patio of the business that once was Niko's Southside Grill but later, under ownership of Ronnie Berke and Tammy Taylor, reopened its doors in January 2015 as Bella Vita and later rebranded again as Coyote Jack's Saloon in December 2016. Berke is Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's uncle.
Police were already on the scene Sunday for crowd control after fire marshals had begun to shut the nightclub down for overcrowding. Facebook live video showed a large crowd gathered outside the club when two loud pops are heard before people begin screaming. Police are seen running to aid Rogers and begin life-saving measures while other officers attempt to keep the crowd at bay. The scene was chaotic, and some of the patrons may have mistakenly thought police shot Rogers, because, in no time flat, someone in one of the Facebook live videos is heard incorrectly making that claim. From there, the misinformation spread throughout social media, with some calling for local gangs to unite against the police.
"Da streets got moe artillery then [sic] da CPD," one post partially read.
Police then quickly and rightly released the officers' body cam videos to quell the misinformation.
But the truth is, we quite literally dodged a barrage of bullets Sunday night: That scene could easily have devolved into a downtown shootout with police and some of the club's patrons then and there.
If you have any doubts, just look at any portion of a compiled 38-minute video — made by the Times Free Press by stringing together the four different video recordings made simultaneously from officer body cams and released to media.
Plenty of "clubs" and bars and even hotels, for much less, have been deemed nuisances and closed before in Chattanooga — or at least were stripped of their beer or liquor licenses — a sure way to let the market close an establishment.
In August, The Glass Street Lounge, better known to customers as Pay Pays at 2302 Glass St., lost its beer license after owner Tyrone "Pay Pay" Brumfield and his son were involved in a fight in the parking lot and charged with stabbing a customer.
In years past, city and county officials have padlocked or closed the Deep Blue, the Mosaic Club, and probably a half dozen others.
Gosh, in February 2018, even the Economy Inn on Brainerd Road was condemned — not because the roof was falling in, but because police had been called there 800 times in 14 months and Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston's petition for closure stated that hundreds of those calls involved crimes of narcotics violations, assaults, gunfire, thefts, robberies and attempted rape.
But apparently Coyote Jack's is bit more complicated. It's complicated by family.
Ronnie Berke, an attorney at Berke, Berke & Berke, works in the law firm with Andy Berke's father, Marvin Berke.
In a statement this week, Mayor Berke said: "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 Chief [David] Roddy that I remain recused from any decision making whatsoever to prevent the appearance of favoritism or preferential treatment. As I would with any venue, I have encouraged Chief Roddy to take any action necessary to ensure public safety. The safety of our community and the integrity of [the police department's] work are my top priorities."
Later, Both Ronnie Berke and Taylor told different media reporters that he is transferring his ownership in the saloon to Taylor. But on Tuesday afternoon and evening, city officials said they had not yet seen any paperwork beginning such a transaction.
But we question whether that's enough. Even if it occurs, the two, according to beer board records, lived together when they signed a contract in September 2014 to lease the 14,866-square-foot building for $11,000 a month. That fact came to light in 2017 when the Chattanooga Beer Board suspended the Southside nightspot's beer license for one week from March 2-9, 2017. That suspension came after Chattanooga Police Officer John Collins told the beer board that during an inspection at 1 a.m. on Feb. 5, there were women under age 21 inside Coyote Jack's, and the club had let in 935 people — when the fire code says the capacity is 518 people.
During a news conference Sunday afternoon, Roddy addressed the establishment's turbulent past and said the department has begun conversations with the city attorney's office and the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office to determine what options there are to deal with the "conditions" of Coyote Jack's.
"We had conversations in 2018 about certain conditions that were supposed to be put forward relative to that location and the surrounding area. Some of that had to do with the increased security presence and cameras," he said. "And the question is, is were those conditions implemented, and were they maintained up to this point, and what are our options moving forward if they weren't?"
Indeed. Ask the neighbors in this up-and-coming Southside area. They're over being afraid. Police and patrons probably are, too.