Mayor threatens to shut down Main Street bar
Published 12:01 am Thursday, March 13, 2014
NATCHEZ — After commotion on Main Street last weekend, a downtown nightclub is squaring off with the City of Natchez to keep its doors open.
Natchez police responded to disturbances in the area of Dimples Lounge in the early morning hours Saturday and Sunday.
Dimples owner Deidre Cox said on both of those nights, she, her employees and customers were harassed and cursed at by police officers.
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Cox said she believes her business is being unfairly targeted by the city and Natchez Police Department because black patrons make up the majority of her customer base.
“It’s racism at its finest,” Cox said. “It’s happening because Dimples is now catering to black clientele.”
Cox said in the past few months, promotion of her club in the black community and new entertainment has led to a spike in black customers.
“It just took off really two months ago, and this weekend has been the first time there has been any trouble,” she said.
Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said Dimples has been “the subject of controversy since it opened.”
Dimples has been operating for 36 years on Main Street.
Cox met with Police Chief Danny White Wednesday to voice concerns about the treatment of her patrons by police officers.
White said Dimples is not being targeted by the police department. He said officers regularly patrol Main Street on the weekends, because people loiter in the street outside of bars.
“We’ve got no reason to pick on her,” he said. “We get calls about disturbances at all the bars; it’s not just her bar.”
Cox said a patron lit a marijuana cigarette Friday in Dimples, and an off-duty police officer working security detained the patron until he could be arrested.
Dimples said the patron was rightly arrested and added her business does not condone drug use.
Cox said, however, an officer came in after the arrest and shut down Dimples after a disturbance broke out down the street from her business.
White said officers were patrolling Main Street when that disturbance broke out. A shot was reportedly fired during the disturbance, but police did not recover a gun from Sam Noble, 24, who was arrested after reportedly failing to comply with officers.
Cox said 200 patrons were inside Dimples when the officer came in to shut down the business.
The maximum capacity of Dimples, as approved by the fire marshal, is 300, Cox said.
“We were shutting down anyway just because we were scared things might escalate,” she said.
But Cox said she and the officer exchanged words after he screamed and cursed at her, then threatened to take her liquor license.
“I didn’t know if he could do it or not,” she said.
Cox said she later found out liquor licenses are regulated solely by Alcohol Beverage Control.
On Saturday night, Cox said two patrons nearly started a fight on the dance floor, but the club’s security broke it up before any punches were thrown. Cox said she had five security guards, including an off-duty police officer, at Dimples Saturday.
Cox said it is Dimples policy that if patrons fight or attempt to start a fight, they have to leave.
As the two patrons were being escorted out, Cox said an officer came inside the business, instructing patrons to leave because the club was being shut down.
Cox said the officer was rude to her patrons and would not give her or the club’s manager a reason police were shutting down the bar.
White said the officer reported someone had opened the club’s door and called for him to come inside, where he found patrons being disorderly. The officer then decided to shut down the club, White said, in order to prevent further disorder.
The bar had 280 patrons inside at the time, Cox said, and 40 to 50 people waiting outside to come inside.
“They could have ran those people waiting in line off,” she said. “Frankly, I wouldn’t have minded that, because we were nearly at capacity anyway.”
Cox plans to file a formal complaint against the specific officer that screamed at her, and White said he would investigate the complaint.
White and Cox will meet with Brown and other city officials today to discuss the situation, as well as the business license for Dimples.
Cox said she was unaware her business license expired on Feb. 28, but went to City Hall to renew it this week. Cox said she was told by City Hall staff they had been instructed not to issue her a license until after the meeting with the mayor.
Cox said she returned Tuesday to City Hall, where she was given her license and was told the staff had learned they could not legally withhold her license.
Brown said he instructed City Hall staff not to issue Cox a license for Dimples. Whether or not that was legal is a chance Brown said he would take.
“I don’t know the legalese of it, but, in general terms, I think the people of Natchez expect me to handle situations like that,” he said. “I’ll take my chances in court.”
City Attorney Hyde Carby declined to comment on the mayor’s legal authority to withhold a business license.
Brown said he has fielded several calls from downtown merchants and residents who are concerned about Dimples.
Since meeting with bar owners last year about eliminating loitering and other problems, Brown said Dimples has been the only bar about which he has heard complaints.
“I can assure you we’re going to contain the situation,” he said. “If (Cox) tries to open up, I’ll shut her down.”
Cox said she is only open a few hours on the weekend and has a right to make a living like anyone else.
Cox, 49, has been working for many years at Dimples and said she has never seen the club targeted by the city like it has been recently.
“I’ve been working as a bartender and waitress here since I was 23, and this is not how they treated us when we were a white bar,” she said.