Commission spares Applejax license

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany City Commission has agreed to a compromise that will spare the license of an East Albany club, but place it on probation for the next six months.

The commission voted 5-2, with Commissioners Jon Howard and Bob Langstaff voting against, to require Applejax Sports Bar to hire two additional security personnel and stay out of trouble for the next six months or risk losing its license to sell alcohol.

Jerro Toye, 23, and Joshua O'Neal Walls, 22, were stabbed to death with a steak knife by Willie Frank Lowe, 42, at about 2:40 a.m. March 3 on a grassy area behind the bar's parking lot.

A Dougherty County grand jury cleared Lowe of any criminal act associated with the killing, determining that he acted in self-defense.

Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards said that Toye and Walls were trying to rob Lowe when he stabbed them.

City Attorney Nathan Davis and local attorney Maurice King squared off during the hearing, with Davis serving as the prosecutor and King representing Applejax's owner, Munmun Patel.

After calling a police officer and two former security workers, Davis argued that the owners of the club had allowed security at the club to lapse to the degree that it had become a threat to the public health, safety and welfare.

Brandon Torrence, a former security guard who worked for a contractor who had been hired by Patel to provide security for Applejax, said that he had told managers of the establishment multiple times that there were too few security personnel for the large crowds that would gather at the facility on the weekends.

Torrence also said that he was discouraged by store managers from calling the Albany Police Department because they had told him it was "bad for business."

On cross-examination, King countered, pointing out that major incidents were called in to police, but that it was minor incidents that Torrence had been reprimanded for calling in.

During the city's portion of the hearing, Davis was able to submit testimony from individuals who pointed out that while there were a handful of security cameras in the facility and two outside before the killings, they were rarely monitored.

King called Patel to the lectern to speak to the commission about her club and pointed out that they had beefed up security measures in the wake of the deaths and that they were doing almost everything possible to make the facility as safe as possible.

A bartender at Applejax also asked commissioners to consider the impact that taking the license from the club would have on those who work there.

After hearing the testimony and the evidence, commissioners expressed their sentiments on the situation.

"I just don't see where they have neglected the public safety, health or welfare part of the ordinance," Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell said. "I don't think we have grounds to revoke their license."

Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike said that he had been shown nothing that suggested that Applejax's mere presence at that location had contributed to the killings.

In the end, it was Mayor Willie Adams who offered the compromise and the concept of placing the club on probation, because he said he was caught "betwixt and between" how to best serve the interests of the public while not casting more Albany residents into the unemployment line.

Postell, who had offered the motion, agreed that "probation would be sufficient."

Commissioner and Mayor Pro Tem Roger Marietta offered a friendly amendment that requires the club to hire two security personnel and monitor their camera systems.