Three more nightlife venues are appealing the Alcohol Board’s denial to renew their alcohol licenses after they refused to pay the $100,000 fee the city charges to the newly established “entertainment venues” to serve beer, wine and liquor.
Josephine’s, Medusa and XS Restaurant & Lounge, all located in Northeast Plaza on Buford Highway, filed their appeals in DeKalb County Superior Court last month. All are represented by attorney Cary Wiggins.
Rush Lounge, represented by attorney Alan Begner, also has appealed the Alcohol Board’s denial of its alcohol license renewal, stating the $100,000 fee is illegal.
The fee stems from city concerns about crime it says it related to Buford Highway nightlife. In the latest example, on April 9, champion boxer Floyd Mayweather’s bodyguard was shot and injured in front of a Buckhead hotel after Mayweather hosted a party at Medusa.
When the city overhauled its alcohol ordinance late last year, it created a new category of alcohol license holders — entertainment venues. An entertainment venue is classified as having either a disc jockey, dance floor or stage, or all three.
Wiggins argued before the Alcohol Board in February that there are several other venues in the city that have DJs, a dance floor or a stage but are not being required to pay the $100,000 fee. City Attorney Chris Balch said at the time that because other businesses may be getting away with having a DJ without paying the $100,000 liquor license fee does not mean the city is violating anyone’s constitutional rights. He also said the city would follow up to see if there are other venues violating the new alcohol ordinance.
“Brookhaven Code Enforcement, Fire Marshal and police are actively engaged in investigations into various Brookhaven business which may be unlicensed entertainment venues. As these investigations are ongoing, the city has no further comment at this time,” Communications Director Burke Brennan said in an email.
All four venues appealing the Alcohol Board’s decision remain open and serving alcohol and plan to during the appeals process, but the city contends the venues should pay the $100,000 during the appeals process.
Alcohol license fees before the new alcohol ordinance were in the $5,000 range. City officials say the much higher fees are needed to pay for police resources that are used at the late-night venues where they say more crime is committed.
The city also rolled back its last call from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m. as a way to also try to curb crime. The new hours went into effect April 10.
Wiggins argues for his clients that the city’s Alcohol Board violated their due process provided in the state Constitution and states the city is arbitrary in its enforcement because it allows other venues such as the Pink Pony, Remix Lounge, Pegasus, Arif Lounge, Nina’s Bar & Grill and Acapulco Tropical to operate in the same format without having to pay $100,000.
The appeal also alleges equal protection violations and free speech violations.
In his appeal, Wiggins also alleges the various definitions the city has for “entertainment venue,” “dinner theater,” “restaurant” and “live entertainment” are vague.
The city cites a shootout at Medusa in May 2017 as an example of heightened crime at the newly designated entertainment venues. The city first tried to pull the club’s alcohol license alleging the venue was a known hangout for a Crips gang member known as “G-Weed,” but the Alcohol Board overturned that decision.
However, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia announced last month the arrest of six alleged gang members with ties back to the Medusa shooting. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the six people arrested are members or associates of the 135 Pirus gang out of Compton, California. 135 Pirus is a set of the Crips.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated in a press release that a high-ranking 135 Pirus gang member was disrespected at Medusa, resulting in the shooting in the parking lot. A gang member from another gang and a security guard were injured, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Brookhaven Police arrested the alleged shooter, Maurice Antonio Kent, of Cartersville. Following the shooting, 135 Pirus gang members believed 17-year-old Qualeef Rhodes of East Point was cooperating with Brookhaven Police and conspired to have him killed, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The killing of Rhodes, whose body was found in Bartow County last June, led to the arrests of the six alleged gang members.