City mayor, aldermen close Truth Lounge after dangerous brawl overnight
Published 6:35 pm Saturday, October 14, 2023
NATCHEZ — During a special-called meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen on Saturday afternoon, aldermen voted to close at least temporarily the Truth Lounge at 719-1/2 Franklin St. after law enforcement leaders said the lounge has become a danger to the nightclub’s patrons and citizens of Natchez.
Natchez Police Chief Cal Green and Commander Jerry Ford described complete chaos after fights broke out in the lounge and in the streets among customers who had gathered at the lounge.
Ford said Natchez Police officers and Adams County deputies who were on the scene to break up the fights and keep the peace were quickly overwhelmed with combative, uncooperative patrons from the establishment. He had to call for all available officers to help establish order.
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The Mayor and Board of Aldermen at its Aug. 29 meeting voted to being proceedings against the club with regard to the city’s public nuisance ordinance. At that meeting, Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson has to break a three-to-three tie among aldermen to move forward with the action.
“The attorney drafted a letter to the club owners at that time and a notice was posted at the club. We have been working in good faith with the owners and we appreciate them and appreciate their desire to operate a business in Natchez and we have been hopeful working together that they would do what they could to establish decorum at their location while law enforcement work in other areas. All of this was made public just a few weeks ago when we deputized deputies and the sheriff to assist us in maintaining decorum and enforcing ordinances in the city of Natchez,” Gibson said.
“Over the last couple of weeks, the situation has taken yet another turn, sadly, and very early this morning, some disturbing events took place,” he said.
Natchez Police Chief Cal Green said the nightclub has become a danger to the entire community.
“Barely a week ago, we had shots fired inside the city limits in that area. The car was parked in the parking lot of Chik Shak but statements from the victim and the perpetrator said they had just left the club,” Green said.
She said the downtown area is densely populated, which increases the chance that people are hurt of “God-forbid, killed” when shots are fired or other dangerous situations occur.
“This is a highly-trafficked area. People are in and out of downtown constantly and for the last two months, my officers and myself have been providing security in the parking lots there making sure everything works the way it is supposed to. Last night was way bigger than we are and the sheriff’s office combined. We do not have the personnel or the resources to continue to be the peacekeeping force in an atmosphere in which the clientele is not willing to cooperate with us,” the police chief said.
Natchez Police Commander Jerry Ford described the scene for the aldermen and mayor.
“Around 2:30 this morning, I was in area of Martin Luther King and Franklin Street attempting to clear the parking lot areas when I observed and heard a disturbance in the area of Truth Lounge. At that time, I started walking toward the club when I observed a Black male with no shirt on who had blood coming from his stomach. I thought maybe he had been stabbed or something of that nature,” Ford said.
He said he stopped the man, who said he was OK and was headed home.
“While going on a little bit further, I could see sheriff’s deputies in the streets trying to restrain multiple people. This particular action was so broad it had both lanes of Franklin Street shut down. Traffic was at a standstill; no vehicle could pass. I had to call all available units at to come up and assist with multiple infractions that were going on in the street.
“After more officers arrived on the scene and we were trying to get some type of law and order, several people were coming up and challenging us while we were trying to make arrests,” Ford said.
He said people carrying alcoholic beverages were challenging law enforcement officers and had to be asked to get back numerous times.
“After we got these people off the streets, and still were trying to get the streets opened up, the management of Truth Lounge came out at that point, hollering for deputies to come inside because the fight was still going on inside the club.
“At that time, they were running in, trying to get people out. These people were still drinking. We were asking them to pour out their alcoholic beverages and to move on. Again, they were not complying. We had to ask multiple times,” Ford said.
At that point, Ford said officers had to deploy Tasers and pepper spray and threaten to use them on the crowd in order to disburse it. At the time, people began moving out of the streets. He said he does not think officers actually had to use a Taser or pepper spray.
“Two cars parked, one in the middle of Franklin Street at Martin Luther King and another car on Martin Luther King that had stopped in the middle of the street arguing and wanting to assault each other. At that time, I had to go down and make them move on so we could get the roads opened up where people could pass by,” he said.
Ford said the road was completely closed for at least 30 minutes and not emergency vehicle could get in or out. He said the situation posed a risk to innocent bystanders and people who were trying to get through the area.
“It became a very, very bad and dangerous situation for us last night,” Ford said.
Gibson said because he was on the scene, NPD’s Commander Ford asked him to write a statement for the record of his experience there. He said between the hours of 2:20 and 3 a.m., he was driving through downtown Natchez in the vicinity of the 700 block of Franklin Street and observed “complete disorder and pandemonium.
“I made three passes through the area to verify what I was seeing and it was highly disturbing,” he said. “I witnessed fights, brawls, drunken behavior, consumption of alcohol from glass bottles by drivers, belligerent behavior and resistance to efforts of numerous law enforcement officers to establish law and order.
“Large crowds were in the street and sidewalks and the noise was excessive. Cars and crowds were blocking the street and I had to wait for long periods of time to pass through safely.
“To be honest, at first, I did not want to drive down the street. It was that scary, but I decided to see it fully, I had to drive it. I don’t mind saying, I was physically shaken by what I saw. I can only imagine what would have happened, should a fire truck or ambulance need to pass.
“Multiple police and sheriff’s deputies were present — about 12 or more in total. I was concerned for their safety. Law enforcement lights were flashing in various areas and the scene was one of utter chaos, with officers and deputies working diligently to gain control. Their efforts were admirable. The situation could have easily escalated and resulted in some horrific events, but our officers did an expert job, in my opinion,” Gibson said. “I would not wish the frightening scene I witnessed on anyone, especially innocent bystanders, residents, property owners and overnight guests staying in this area of the city.”
He said the city has video evidence that is date and time stamped of both the scene outside the Truth Lounge and the scene inside the nightclub.
Sheriff Travis Patten says no more
Patten said in a statement to the mayor and aldermen that his deputies would no longer be allowed to provide private security at The Truth Lounge.
Deputies of the sheriff’s office had been hired privately to work as security guards for the owners of the lounge since it opened, and they worked very hard to maintain decorum at the lounge, Gibson said.
However, Patten told aldermen they may no longer.
“It’s really simple. The situation at the lounge has grown into something that we don’t want to be a part of. On paper, it was a lounge when we started to let deputies work there in order to make extra money to feed their families,” the sheriff said. “Seeing what I saw there early this morning, it has transitioned into a nightclub and we don’t want any part of that.”
He said no deputies are to work at the Truth Lounge and no uniforms, equipment or identifying items associated with the sheriff’s office are allowed to be displayed there.
An imminent and immediate threat
Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith made a motion to resolve that a dangerous atmosphere and conditions exist at the Truth Lounge and it poses and imminent and immediate threat to the health, safety and welfare of patrons of the bar and citizens of Natchez. Ward 6 Alderman Curtis Moroney seconded that motion.
Voting to approve it were Smith, Moroney, Alderwoman Valencia Hall and Gibson.
Alderpersons Billie Joe Frazier, Felicia Bridgewater-Irving and Ben Davis did not attend the special meeting Saturday.
“Every alderperson has been made aware of this situation and the special meeting. Each alderperson was given an opportunity to participate by phone call,” Gibson said. Hall recently had an eye procedure and did participate in the meeting via phone.
The city’s charter defines the council as six aldermen and the mayor, so Gibson voted as part of the meeting’s quorum.
The second motion, which was made by Smith and seconded by Hall, moved to close the Truth Lounge until at least the next board meeting, at which the owners would have to show cause why aldermen should not close it permanently. Smith, Moroney, Hall and Gibson approved that ordinance.
Chief Green was ordered to post a notice on the door of the established that it is closed and to inform the owners of that.
The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Monday, Oct. 23, at
6 p.m. in the council chambers at 115 S. Pearl St.