The party’s over at Columbia’s Club Crush’s site

jmonk@thestate.comDecember 12, 2013 

The wild Club Crush has been tamed.

A state administrative law judge has denied a bid to reopen a bar-restaurant with a history of police raids, scantily-clad women and disturbed neighbors at the single-story building at 3722 River Drive, just outside Columbia city limits.

Judge Deborah Durden, citing testimony at a November hearing by law enforcement, neighbors and nearby church members, ruled this week that, based on the club’s trouble-filled past and other circumstances, she would deny a request for permits to serve alcohol.

“I find that the location under previous management was an extreme nuisance to the surrounding community, and the location has acquired a reputation as a destination for engaging in illegal and violent activity,” Durden wrote in a 16-page decision.

Dave West, representing Barfly Enterprises, was seeking an on-premises beer and wine permit and a restaurant liquor-by-the-drink license. Barfly Enterprises was seeking to lease the building from Jerry Britt to open a new club. Testimony indicated that if this new business were allowed to open at Club Crush’s location, it would present many of the old club’s same problems, according to the decision.

Club Crush, by one name or another, has operated as a strip club since 1999. In 2012, the club was burned by a Hells Angels motorcycle gang operating out of Rock Hill and Lexington. It closed last summer after several raids and being cited for selling alcohol without a license and operating without a business license.

“Club Crush has operated an as adult entertainment business without the required licenses and has been the scene of hundreds of law enforcement calls including two murders, that have placed a severe strain on law enforcement resources in the past,” wrote Durden. During the hearing, she heard testimony from Richland County sheriff’s Capt. Joseph Shampine.

West had planned to open a restaurant and lounge “where girls in bikinis serve patrons,” Durden wrote.

At the mid-November hearing, numerous witnesses testified against the club’s plans to reopen during a hearing in the State House complex.

One was Celeste Johnson, a member of Word of Transformation Center church, who testified that the view from the front door of her church “allows persons, including children, exiting the church to see inside the club (and) to view inappropriately dressed women,” Durden wrote.

Among the judge’s findings was that the church members’ ears and eyes were offended and “burdened by the loud cursing and unruly behavior of bar patrons in the parking lot of the proposed location.”

And, the judge noted, although Club Crush has 65 parking spaces, club patrons routinely parked in streets and illegally in the church parking lot, where “no parking” signs are posted.

Another witness, Jasper Salmond, president of the Riverview Terrace neighborhood association, testified the club in past years has been the scene of numerous problems. Frequent open-air drug transactions took place, as did “night beatings, robberies, stripping and violent crimes,” Salmond said in Durden’s report.

“During the months since Club Crush has closed, these types of incidents have ceased in the neighborhood,” Durden wrote.

Durden’s findings included:

• Reopening the club would place “a severe strain” on law enforcement resources.

The location near a church and residential neighborhood is unsuitable.

• Parking is inadequate to accommodate “the crowds that would be attracted to the business.”

“Because of the history of illegal and violent activity at the location and its reputation, the customers who would be attracted to a similar business at the location would be a similarly unsavory crowd despite any good intentions of the current management,” Durden wrote.

“It is the attraction of persons intent on lawless and violent behavior that is a primary cause of the nuisance to the community,” she wrote.

Essentially, Durden’s decision upholds a September decision by the S.C. Department of Revenue to deny West’s applications.

Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, whose office had to prosecute many of the crimes committed at the club, called Durden’s decision “truly a victory for the community.”

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, whose officers staged raids and investigated many crimes at the club, said, “I’m glad we were able to keep another problem from starting at that location.”

Lott said his deputies try to work with club owners, but “if it gets to the point where they can’t control their patrons, then we have to take action.”

Having people from the church and neighborhood testify at Durden’s hearing and work with his department was vital, Lott said. “It takes a community effort – we just can’t do it by ourselves.”

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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