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Judge hears Platinum Lounge case
Owner: It's police department's job to clear crowd after club closes
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During a six-hour hearing Tuesday, the owner of a nightclub gave reasons why the business, temporarily closed by a judge’s order, should remain open.

Prosecutors argued the Platinum Lounge is a public nuisance and the problems its existence creates cannot be controlled except through permanent closure.

Bulloch County Superior Court Judge John R. Turner ordered both the Platinum Lounge, 2 Proctor St., and Primetime Lounge, 608 Northside Drive W., owned by Karen Pittman Brown of Bulloch Investors LLC, temporarily closed Nov. 12 after a man was killed Nov. 9 at Primetime Lounge.

Johnnie L. Benton, 25, of Rincon, was killed and Jamal Heard, 21, also of Rincon, was seriously injured when an unknown gunman opened fire that night. Police are seeking a suspect.

On Aug. 19, 2012, Akeila Roschell Martin, 32, of Statesboro, was fatally shot and another woman injured as an unknown man fired shots into a huge crowd outside Platinum Lounge. The killing remains unsolved.

Statesboro City Attorney J. Alvin Leaphart IV told the court there would be “irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted.”  He and Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Daphne Jarriel asked Turner to continue orders to keep the businesses closed until a final hearing, to be scheduled later. Turner will hear the case against Primetime Lounge on Thursday.

Local attorney Scott Brannen asked Turner to allow Platinum Lounge to reopen, citing efforts made by owner Heyward

Fields to improve the business. Brannen said Fields has asked for law enforcement help regarding unruly crowds after his business closes at 2:30 a.m.

However, Leaphart showed the court 461 pages of incident reports involving Platinum Lounge. Many involved fights, shots fired and other violence.

Alan Chassereau, who lives nearby on Elm Street, told the court his family is affected by noise at night from the club. The “gunshots are unnerving,” he said.

Karen Mullins, who also lives in the area, testified that the club’s bass music and noisy cleanup crew keeps her awake.

After Martin’s slaying, several businesses in the area posted signs reminding people about Statesboro’s ordinance against loitering. Fields said during testimony that police do not enforce the ordinance as they should.

Statesboro Herald newspaper carrier Allison Fadden told the court what she saw the night of Martin’s slaying.

Surveillance video from the Herald, at 1 Proctor St., directly across from Platinum Lounge, shows a Statesboro police car passing by seconds before the shots were fired that night.

Fadden described the parking lots for the club and adjacent businesses as having “no parking spaces left — it was packed out.”

She was preparing to pick up the papers she would deliver when she “heard four gunshots” and looked up to see Martin fall from the hood of a car on which she had been sitting. The shooting occurred as people gathered in the parking lot while the club was closing.

Statesboro police Capt. Tom Woodrum told the court that officers are at the club often, either patrolling or responding to complaints. He cited several incidents, including some where officers found spent shell casings, damage to buildings by bullets, and even a trail of blood. It cost city taxpayers about $14,037 for officers to respond to the incidents at Platinum Lounge. The club hosts party events, held “fight nights” and was once cited for having a crowd larger than the legal occupancy, he said.

Inspections have revealed a “haze” caused by marijuana being smoked inside, and unruly crowds who don’t want to go home after the club closes, Woodrum said.

Brannen compared Platinum Lounge to other locations in the city where shots were reported, but the businesses remain open.

Fields testified he did everything he could to make patrons leave after closing, and said it is the police department’s responsibility to handle the crowd remaining. He said anyone found with a gun or illegal drugs is asked to leave. He said he was unaware of Woodrum and other officers finding marijuana on a pool table inside the building during a previous inspection.

Fields said he tried hiring off-duty officers for security, but was told Statesboro officers are not allowed to moonlight at businesses serving alcohol.

He pointed out that all the shots fired and other violence occurred outside the club, not inside. Jarriel countered by stating the people causing the disturbances were there because of the club.

Marie Brown, manager of Maxway next door to the lounge, said Fields was a good neighbor and she never experienced problems with his club. However, she also admitted to Jarriel that she was never at the location late at night when the club was open.

Fields said he plans to continue improvements to the club, providing it reopens, including a “change of atmosphere” and an expanded menu.

Leaphart asked that the club remain closed until the final hearing, citing “crime, mayhem, shots fired and families that can’t sleep at night.”

Brannen asked that the club be allowed to reopen.  “If the laws were adequately enforced, there would not be a loitering problem,” he said.

Turner said he will review the case and make a decision within a matter of days. He will hear the Primetime Lounge case Thursday.

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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