Proceed with caution

Published 8:29 am Thursday, July 25, 2013

MURFREESBORO – Despite several instances regarding guns fired into the air and fist fights in the parking lot, a Murfreesboro nightclub will remain in operation….at least until Dec. 31.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here Tuesday evening, members of the Murfreesboro Town Council approved a Conditional Use Permit for Sandy Shore Lounge, located just north of the Meherrin River bridge off US 258. While the nightclub, which was operating under a temporary use permit, is not technically inside Murfreesboro’s corporate limits, it is within the town’s one-mile ETJ (Extra Territorial Jurisdiction), meaning the establishment must abide by town code.

The issue came before the council after the permit was reviewed twice last week by the Murfreesboro Planning Board. Lillie Owens White, chair of the Planning Board, presented those findings to the council on Tuesday. Among the issues addressed by the Planning Board was the presence of uniformed deputy sheriffs for use as security.

Willie Boone, owner of the nightclub, said he was currently working with Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan on hiring off-duty deputies at such times when the lounge is open for business.

“Sheriff Vaughan needed some time to get things lined-up on his end, hopefully we can put those deputies in place as our security later this week,” Boone said.

In the meantime, Boone said he has been using a private security firm at the lounge. However, as it was later learned at the meeting, that security force does not have arrest powers.

Owens White said the Planning Board shared several directives with Boone, to include displaying signs informing potential customers that the club is open to those only over the age of 21; to “card” everyone entering the door to ensure of their age; charge a full price “re-enter” fee should a customer leave the building and wishes to return; that Boone hire enough uniformed deputies to cover both the inside of the nightclub and its parking lot area; and if a customer becomes unruly that they be permanently banned from the nightclub.

“If Mr. Boone follows these directives, the Planning Board has no problem with forwarding to the town council our approval of the Conditional Use Permit,” Owens White said.

Murfreesboro Police Captain Chris Sumner presented a list of 9-1-1 calls made over the last six months to Hertford County Emergency Dispatch in regards to incidents at the nightclub. He cited six such calls, including a stabbing, three cases of where shots were fired in the parking lot (to include one case where several fights occurred), an unruly patron, and damage to a vehicle in the parking lot.

In defense of the stabbing, Boone said a man was injured during an altercation inside the club, striking his head in the side of a steel cage used to protect the PA equipment.

“It got out that the man was stabbed in the head, but he hit his head on the cage; there wasn’t a stabbing,” Boone said.

Sumner said of the calls he responded to at the nightclub, there is always, “a flood of cars in the parking lot. When you have reports of shots fired, everyone is trying to leave at the same time and get out of the way. There’s one way in and one way out.”

No arrests were made in any of the 9-1-1 calls answered by local law enforcement.

“Would you explain the police or security protection system as far as a club such as this is concerned,” asked Councilwoman Gloria Odum. “Who has the authority to do what?”

“Because it’s in our ETJ, we have the power to arrest just like the (Hertford County) Sheriff’s Office does,” Sumner answered. “The Sheriff’s Office has the original jurisdiction there. If we go there and witness criminal activity taking place, we have the power to take corrective action and/or make an arrest.”

Sumner said the Murfreesboro Police sides with caution as they answer calls at the lounge.

“We knew going in to three of these calls that shots were fired and there was a large crowd, 200 or more, in a parking lot,” he said. “We are requested by the Sheriff’s Office to respond and we do, but we do it tactically, with everyone we can get to go. Unfortunately for the safety of the innocent bystanders, we have to wait to all meet up and then go in at one time.”

Odum asked about the powers of the private security firm used at the nightclub.

“They have no arrest authority; all they can legally do is detain someone until we get there or a Sheriff’s deputy gets there,” Sumner noted. “They can carry a firearm, but can’t arrest anyone.”

Sumner added that he had spoken with Sheriff Vaughan about allowing off-duty uniformed and armed deputies to work as security at the nightclub.

“He’s willing to try it with our assistance, but he doesn’t know if that will fix the problems,” Sumner stated. “He said he can supply up to three deputies. We’ll have to fill the gap, that is if any of our guys want to go down there and work during their off-duty days.”

Sumner said even with three-to-five uniformed officers working as a security team, there remains a fine line in making an arrest with 200 or so people milling around.

“If I have to make an arrest, then the paperwork and transportation of the arrestee removes me from the security team,” Sumner pointed out. “That’s why in none of the six 9-1-1 calls to the club where we responded there were no arrests made, even though there were plenty of people there that should have been arrested for being drunk and disruptive, for fighting and so forth. You think about leaving your comrades there, minus one body.”

Councilwoman Sarah Wallace asked Boone if it was feasible for him to hire the uniformed officers plus keep members of the private security firm he uses at his club.

“That would give the uniformed officers added assistance,” Wallace observed.

“Yes, we’ll have the security guys working with the Sheriff’s deputies; we may wind up with five or six working at one time,” Boone replied.

Boone also informed Council members that the individuals who shot into the air in the parking lot have been identified and have been permanently barred from the premises.

“It was the same one or two guys doing this; their names will be posted and not allowed to enter,” Boone promised. “If they come and refuse to leave, we’ll have the deputy to lock them up on trespassing charges.”

“With what the Planning Board came up with and Mr. Boone agreeing to the extra security, I think we can give this plan a shot, a chance,” Wallace said.

Odum motioned to grant the Conditional Use Permit until Dec. 31, providing that Boone follow the conditions noted earlier by the Planning Board. Councilman Hal Thomas offered a second and the motion was approved without objection.

The Council also decided to place Boone on their November meeting agenda for an update on how the new conditions are working.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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