Truth Lounge owners seek damages from Gibson, unnamed defendants in lawsuit

Published 10:34 pm Thursday, November 16, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Owners of the Truth Lounge have filed a lawsuit against Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson and up to 15 unnamed individuals.

Jeffrey Graves of the Cochran Firm – Jackson LLC of Ridgeland represents Rickey O. Banks and David Haywood, owners of Truth Lounge.

Mayor Dan Gibson

Gibson is being sued individually, rather than in his capacity as mayor.

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Graves said the John Does listed in the lawsuit are known as “fictitious defendants” and will be identified at a later date.

“Under the law, you can designate unknown opposing parties. These individuals are complainants who are unable to be currently identified who through their conduct, actions or omissions may place them in the position of defendants,” Graves said. “It allows you to substitute defendants the actual people who are guilt of the same acts” listed in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is a result of actions taken by the mayor and board of aldermen to close Truth Lounge during a special meeting on Oct. 14 after law enforcement officials told them the lounge had become a danger to its patrons and citizens of Natchez.

At that meeting, 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 officers of the city police department and Adams County Sheriff deputies were in danger of being overwhelmed by combative, uncooperative patrons from Truth Lounge.

At that meeting, which was intended by Ward 1 Alderwoman Valencia Hall, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith and Ward 6 Alderman Curtis Moroney and Mayor Gibson, aldermen voted unanimously to close Truth Lounge pending a public hearing in which its owners would be forced to show why they should stay open.

On Aug. 29, the mayor and aldermen voted to use the city’s public nuisance ordinance to “establish decorum at their location.”

The lawsuit, filed in Adams County Circuit Court on Oct. 23, claims Gibson and the unnamed defendants had several “unofficial” conversations and meetings about Truth Lounge. As a result, Gibson and the John Doe defendants decided to decrease the number of patrons at Truth Lounge by blocking off areas where the patrons parked, among other things.

The suit claims Gibson used public property in the form of crowd control barriers for private benefit, using government property for his personal agenda.

The suit claims the area in which Truth Lounge is located at 719 Franklin St. is in the Black Business District, which has traffic flow issues and parking shortages, which is outlined in the Downtown Natchez Master Plan.

According to the lawsuit, Gibson instructed City of Natchez employees to place crowd control barriers in areas as to prevent Truth Lounge patrons from parking near the business, thus causing Truth Lounge to lose patrons and money, which Gibson and unnamed defendants knew would happen.

Further, the suit claims the unnamed defendants knew that the meeting called by Gibson was not “an official City of Natchez meeting and they were implicit in Mr. Gibson’s clandestine plan to close Truth Lounge.”

“These clandestine plans are tantamount to corruption as they erode trust, hamper economic development and further exacerbate social division,” the suit read.

The suit claims Gibson and the others interfered with business relations and knew or should have known their actions would cause Truth Lounge to lose revenues and profits. It also claims defendants conspired to commit illegal actions against the plaintiffs and their business by working to deem it a chronic public nuisance.

The suit claims the plaintiffs continue to be damaged by the actions of the defendants and seek actual and punitive damages.

Graves said a hearing is set for Nov. 21 before Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Carmen Drake concerning an emergency restraining order granted by Circuit Court Judge Debra Blackwell on Oct. 19, which allowed Truth Lounge to reopen after the mayor and aldermen ordered it to close. Blackwell ordered the City of Natchez to immediately cease and desist with any efforts to close the Truth Lounge until further notice from the court.

“We would like to address all things concerning the city at our Nov. 21 hearing,” Graves said. “Our hope is they continue to operate and the city and the surrounding community all agree these guys have done things the right way and will continue to do that and be a good neighbor.”

Dan Gibson was out of town and not immediately available for comment.

City Attorney Bryan Callaway said attorney Clark Hicks of Hattiesburg is representing Gibson. Callaway said he will reserve comment on the merits of the case.