April 2, 2013 10:16:22 AM
The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors Monday unanimously authorized county attorney Tim Hudson to draft an ordinance that would require county night clubs to close at 1 a.m.
Sheriff Mike Arledge requested the board begin the process of drafting an ordinance, citing noise complaints, increased violence and a lack of manpower to properly enforce county law prohibiting the sale of alcohol after 1 a.m. and maintain order.
Arledge said unlike the city of Columbus, Lowndes County has no law on the books requiring the establishments to close at a given hour, which means they can stay open as long as owners allow. When Columbus clubs close, some patrons travel to county clubs after they've already consumed alcohol and continue to do so there, he said. Adding to the problem, Arledge said, is customers coming from outlying areas, which in many cases causes overcrowding at the establishments. Also aggravating the issue are owners who allow double-capacity crowds at their bars, which can be particularly dangerous in the event of a shooting, such as one that occurred last year at the Sin City Club in Crawford, resulting in five injuries, he said.
"Myself and several others went out the past couple of weekends working some of these clubs that were getting out of hand," Arledge said. "The thing I'm getting is the calls out there are, 'Shots fired, and we need some help.' The officers drive there outnumbered and have to fight these people and then when we go out there (without being called) to be proactive, the owners don't want us there."
LCSO Deputy Steve Hatcher said responding to calls of fights at clubs has become a common occurrence, referring particularly to a recent incident at Club Rosé that could have resulted in a deputy's injury.
"When they get out there, these incidents are happening with people inside the club where we have to go into the club and settle the dispute and at that time it basically becomes a riot when you've got officers outnumbered 500 to five," Hatcher said. "(At Club Rose') we were fist-fighting folks to keep them off us trying to get these people outside that were under arrest. Some security guards told us they were pulling chairs out of (patrons') hands to keep them from throwing them at us."
Both Hatcher and Arledge say they have always been willing to work with code enforcers to determine capacities of bars and urge owners to comply.
"These owners shove them in at $10 a head in the door. They're already drunk...and when they get there, 30 minutes after they're there (owners and security guards are calling) and saying, 'Hey, we've got shots fired,' or 'We've got a fight in the parking lot,' because they want us to come do their dirty work and get them out of there since they've already gotten their money," Hatcher said.
District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders asked Arledge if the establishments were staying open after 1 a.m. but not selling alcohol.
"Well, let me correct you just a little bit on that," Arledge said. "To tell you the truth ... as many clubs as we've got with (what) few officers (we have), even if we had the National Guard we probably couldn't police that because they're going to sell alcohol as long as they stay open. (Patrons) are going to be out in the parking lot selling dope, selling alcohol and fighting and that kind of thing."
Hudson said he will draft a proposed ordinance this week and send a copy to supervisors for their input and the matter will likely be revisited at the board's April 15 meeting. County administrator Ralph Billingsley said if they agree on the language the next step would be to provide notice for a public hearing to be held in a future meeting.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.