ALBANY, Ga. -- The owners of two popular Albany nightclubs said their businesses may have been singled out for scrutiny by city officials after hearings Monday morning to determine whether the clubs' alcohol licenses should be renewed.
Frankie Tillman, who has owned and operated Charley B's Sports Bar & Grill for the past 18 years, and Tim Shelton, who changed the name of his 12-year-old business to Club Xscape five years ago, said that the issues discussed during hearings at the Government Center were the kinds of issues that are typical of all such establishments in the city.
"(Tillman) has owned this establishment for more than 18 years, and this is the first time something like this has come up," Tillman's attorney, Jay Brimberry, said after the hearing. "There have been rapes, robberies and even some killings at other places, and all they've brought against us are two fights and a handful of open container complaints that took place in the parking lot.
"There's never been a major incident here that would warrant this action."
Shelton, meanwhile, contends the commission was bowing to outside political pressure in going after his alcohol license.
"My business conflicts with some of the other businesses around here, and they're going after me," he said. "The things that I've been accused of doing (specifically, allowing persons under 21 to attend events at the club) are the things that Bo Henry and Lane Rosen (co-owners of the downtown State Theatre) are doing. If I'm not able to do it, they shouldn't be able to do it.
"The media have helped (other business owners) try and gain a monopoly."
City Attorney Nathan Davis, who compiled evidence and conducted the city's cases against Charley B's and Club Xscape — and three other nightclubs whose hearings are scheduled for today and Wenesday — said the city had carried the burden of proving the action against the clubs would fall within city ordinances.
"City code does not talk about the number of cases; it talks about the severity of cases," Davis said. "I think both of these cases deal with public safety and the public's general welfare. These establishments — and all establishments that sell alcohol — have a compelling duty to protect the public's safety.
"I think we've shown today that these establishments did not meet those responsibilities."
Davis called Jaylon Edwards and Stephanie and Matt McDowell to testify about attacks they were involved in on Charley B's premises. Edwards said he was jumped by several "young boys" in the club's 2401 Dawson Road parking lot on June 23, 2012 and sustained severe injuries before the fight was broken up.
"I feel lucky to be alive today," Edwards said after identifying gruesome photographs that showed the extent of his injuries.
Stephanie McDowell said she was knocked unconscious by a patron inside the club on July 28, 2012 and that when she regained consciousness her husband, Matt McDowell, who had intervened, was "lying unconscious with blood all around him." The McDowells said Matt McDowell stayed in the intensive care unit at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital for four days with swelling and bruising of his brain.
"He's not the same person he was before that night," Stephanie McDowell said of her husband. "He doesn't want to go out in public anymore, and for the first couple of weeks after he came home, he was irate, angry at everything, and he couldn't go to work."
Albany Police Department officials, including Detective Charlie Roberts and patrol officers Gregory Gadt, Bryan Taylor, Bobby Jackson and Lakesha Bryant, testified to specific cases in which Charley B's patrons were charged with carrying open containers of alcohol in the establishment's parking lot.
Joe Watkins, whose company owns the adjacent Huntingdon Apartments, testified that he'd received a number of noise complaints from renters who lived in the apartments.
"Several of my tenants did not renew leases because of the persistent noise problem," Watkins said.
Tillman, who said he has already priced security cameras for his establishment if his license is renewed, acknowledged that many of the complaints against his business came during a period in which APD officers were not allowed to work security at the club.
"Since they've changed their policy and allowed the off-duty officers to work with us, the number of complaints has decreased considerably," he said.
Code Enforcement Officer Patrick Williams testified that he'd been in Club Xscape twice — on Aug. 27, 2011 and Aug. 24, 2012 — for compliance checks, and both times he found a large number of patrons under age 21 in the establishment.
"We did not shut his club down," Williams said. "We allowed him to direct everyone to leave the club and then come back in after their I.D. had been checked."
When Shelton complained that he was "doing the same thing that they do at the State Theatre," Mayor Dorothy Hubbard pointed out that he was offering an "apples to oranges" argument.
"Mr. Shelton needs to understand that there are different licenses in the city," Hubbard said after the hearing. "He is not operating under the same license as the State Theatre or other businesses. It's unfortunate that we've come to this with his business and these other businesses, but this is a process we need to go through."
Shelton pointed to a pair of Albany Herald articles — one announcing the establishments whose licenses were being challenged and another from Sunday featuring new ownership of the State Theatre — saying that the news media were helping other establishments try to shut his business down.
He also showed a Herald reporter video footage of a local television station's newscast in which an on-air reporter said a fight had broken out at Club Xscape.
"We weren't even open on that day," Shelton said.
After hearing reports of incidents at Club Xscape from Williams, Code Enforcement's Nathaniel Norman, and APD personnel Jerry Franklin, Brian Covington, Tyrone Griffin and Dramoski Franklin, Shelton said some of the incidents at his establishment may have involved teens attending parties at nearby event centers.
"Everything that happens on that end of Broad (Avenue) doesn't have to do with me," Shelton said after Norman acknowledged that there were four event centers located on the same block as Club Xscape. "I have no control over the business licenses that were applied for next to my business."
The commission will meet with officials from Club Legends today after its work session, and will meet with representatives of Big Daddy's Lounge and the Sandtrap Lounge on Wednesday.