By Jeff Clark
Nightclub owners in Lowndes County may soon have to shut their doors at an earlier hour. The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors is considering a new ordinance that would force club owners not under a city ordinance to close at 1 a.m. The ordinance was suggested on Monday by Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge who cited safety as the catalyst for his request. According to Arledge, nightclubs in the county can currently stay open all night.
“I would like to ask that maybe (board attorney) Tim Hudson could come up with some type of ordinance allowing all the clubs to shut down at 1 a.m.,” Arledge said. “It’s hard to control these clubs and they get more violent after 1 a.m. They have these large parties at the (Columbus) Fairgrounds and when they get done there, they come out to the clubs in the county.”
Arledge said the clubs can become chaotic and with only five deputies on a shift, he doesn’t have enough staff to properly patrol the clubs. He also said the nightclubs can become violent.
“The only homicide we’ve had in the county since I became sheriff was at a nightclub,” Arledge said. “You may remember a few months ago when there was a shooting at Sin City and four people were taken to Oktibbeha County Hospital and Noxubee County Hospital. But what we always get is nobody saw anything. They will call us out there for shots fired and say they need some help but when we get there no one is cooperative. But if we go out there to be proactive, the owners don’t want us there. There is also an issue with noise. We get several complaints about the noise. My officers have to stop doing what they are doing and go out to the clubs and try and shut them down. All I’m asking is to have something like a 12:30 last call and get everyone off the premises by 1 a.m.”
LCSD Deputy Steve Hatcher reiterated Arledge’s concerns to the board.
“When we have to go into a club and settle a dispute, it basically becomes a riot when you have five officers and 500 people,” Hatcher said. “We went in one place to break up a fight and it was dark we couldn’t see. We picked a guy up off the floor to take him outside to get some air. But instead of being someone we were arresting, we realized it was one of our deputies. It’s putting us in a dangerous situation and it’s out of control.”
The owner of Club Rose, who only would identify himself as “Kenny,” on Wednesday accused the LCSD of using racist tactics to destroy his business.
“(LCSD) knows this will hurt my business because everyone doesn’t show up until 1 a.m.,” Kenny said. “This is bias and racist. They aren’t doing anything to the white clubs. Anytime something happens out here, the LCSD usually instigates it. You can’t blame us because they are short staffed. They are making it like we are some outlaw gang-banging club but we’re not. They never came out here when it was a redneck joint. The sheriff’s department abuses their authority and harasses my customers.”
Arledge laughed off the club owner’s accusations.
“We’ve had almost 50 calls of incidents at Club Rose,” Arledge said. “We are only trying to keep the peace. We have had more trouble at Club Rose than at any other club, so sometimes you just have to be proactive.
During discussion on Arledge’s proposal, District 1 Supervisor and board president Harry Sanders said the wording in the ordinance needed to be very specific.
“If you say we have to shut down any place that sales alcohol on the premises, well that could mean WalMart,” Sanders said.
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks asked Arledge if the proposed ordinance would affect the adult nightclub The Pony. Arledge said he assumes The Pony would apply for resort status, which would still have to be approved by the board.
Sanders asked Hudson to draft an ordinance for the board to explore before it is advertised and a public hearing is held.
Oktibbeha County Sheriff Steve Gladney said late night clubs are not a problem in his county.
“We are a dry county,” Gladney said. “We don’t have any nightclubs. We have a couple of places where you can bring your drinks. The only nightclub we have is Cowbells. They have resort status and they can stay open until 3 a.m.”
According to Police Chief Selvain McQueen, Columbus nightclubs must be emptied by 1:30 a.m. The Columbus City Council in 2009 voted to extend the ordinance from 1 a.m. until 1:30 a.m.