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LaGrange owner: ‘Bars don’t commit crimes’

Establishment may close, operator blames city proposal

By Melanie Ruberti

mruberti@civitasmedia.com

William Barnes, owner of the Good Times Sports Bar and Grill at 1014 Hogansville Road, said he is considering closing down his bar for good because of the proposed changes to the city ordinance.

http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/37/2015/10/web1_WEB1022GoodTimes.jpgWilliam Barnes, owner of the Good Times Sports Bar and Grill at 1014 Hogansville Road, said he is considering closing down his bar for good because of the proposed changes to the city ordinance.

Melanie Ruberti | Daily News

LaGRANGE —Up until two months ago, William Barnes had a good run as a bar owner in the city of LaGrange.

He opened the Good Times Sports Bar and Grill at 1014 Hogansville Road three years ago and catered to a mainly older, middle class crowd that would hit the club when they finished work at nearby plants and facilities.

But Barnes said all that is about to change.

He believes under the new modifications to the city ordinances concerning nightclubs being proposed by LaGrange Public Safety Chief Lou Dekmar and a staff of LaGrange Police Department investigators and officers, his bar business will all but cease to exist.

According to one of the proposals, nightclubs would have to shut their doors by 1 a.m. instead of the usual 4 a.m. During a recent meeting between bar owners, Dekmar and City Manager Tom Hall, that proposal was modified to 2 a.m. instead.

But Barnes does not think it will help him out.

“With a late crowd coming in around 11 p.m. or 11:30 p.m., and then we’d have to close by 2 a.m. … I think it’s going to be hard to make money with a crowd like mine,” Barnes explained. “Other bars will see it will affect their business too, because it’s going to take money away from them as well.”

Dekmar said one of the reasons behind the change in hours was to restrict the length of time individuals can remain in the nightclubs after closing and reduce any acts of violence or disturbances that occur in these establishments after 1 a.m.

Barnes does not buy it.

“Bars don’t commit crimes and buildings don’t hurt people. People hurt people,” Barnes stated. “Shutting the bars down (early) is not going to stop the violence, it’s just going to spread it. People are going to have house parties or go to bootleggers’ houses all over town.”

The violence in and around the club scene in LaGrange is a touchy subject for Barnes. In August, his bar experienced two separate shootings just weeks apart.

According to LaGrange police, on Aug. 30, Tobias Ogletree, 24, was gunned down inside the club and later died from his wounds at West Georgia Medical Center.

A few weeks before that, on Aug. 15, LPD investigators reported someone shot Adrian Griffin, 30, in the chest in the Good Times parking lot.

As of press time, no arrests have been made in either shooting.

Many nightclub owners believed the new ordinance proposals were brought forth because of the violence at Good Times. But Chief Dekmar made it clear from the beginning, discussions about modifications to the ordinances started months before the either shooting at Barnes’ bar.

Still, Barnes feels like he is shouldering much of the blame, though he said he has bent over backwards trying to help LaGrange police solve both cases.

“I’ve tried to reach out and help with the incidents,” Barnes stated. “The night of the (Aug. 15) shooting I had an eyewitness go over to the detective and give him a description of the shooter, a description of the car and the tag. There still hasn’t been an arrest.

“I called them and asked them about it, and I was told the information was lost — and that’s a fact,” Barnes added.

The Daily News contacted Dekmar and detectives with the Criminal Investigation Section about Barnes’ claim, which the department quickly disputed.

“As it relates to allegations by William Barnes regarding incompetence by the LaGrange Police Department, specifically the allegation that key information to this case was ‘lost,’ these allegations are inaccurate and unfounded assertions that are not in keeping with the City of LaGrange Police Department policy or standard operating procedures,” Nelson stated. “If, in fact, Mr. Barnes spoke with someone at the LaGrange Police Department who indicated the information provided by a witness was in fact lost, this information was unsubstantiated as it was logged by the Troup County 911 system’s computer automated dispatch system on the date and time of the incident.”

Nelson said despite Barnes having a video surveillance system, it was activated that night.

According to Nelson, detectives have tried to talk to witnesses at the scene that night — some have been helpful and some have refused to cooperate with police.

“During the initial on scene investigation by patrol officers and investigators from the special investigations section of the LaGrange Police Department, information was relayed from witnesses regarding a tag number, a vehicle description and a possible suspect description,” said LPD Sgt. William Nelson via email. “Responding officers were advised that the alleged shooter, described as a black male with long dread locks and a white tee shirt on, had left the scene in a red in color Cadillac. Officers were also provided a possible tag number. Upon completing a query of the tag number through GCIC (Georgia Crime Information Center), however, it did not come back to a red in color Cadillac and not within the geographic area of Troup County, Georgia.”

A person of interest in the case was arrested based off a lineup shown to Griffin. But Nelson said additional evidence from a patrol car video, and the suspect’s polygraph test, cleared him of being the alleged shooter and the man was released.

Nelson told the Daily News a second person of interest in the Aug. 15 shooting was identified. However, Griffin is now not cooperating with investigators due to unrelated pending criminal charges against him.

Barnes said since the second shooting, business at Good Times Sports Bar and Club has significantly decreased.

“I’m having to do some soul searching,” he admitted. “Business is getting hard.”

Barnes said he also does not agree with how the decision to change the city bar ordinances are being made, and that may also give him enough reason to pull up stakes in LaGrange.

“I think they should put it on a ballot and let the people vote, not just let the city and the LaGrange police decide what is good for us,” he stated. “In any other city something like this (proposed ordinance changes) would be put on a ballot, but not here.”

With the reading on the new ordinances by the LaGrange City Council still looming on the horizon, the bar owner said he may shut down his business for good before the proposal ever goes up for a vote.

• • •

FULL STATEMENT FROM LPD:

“On August 15, 2015, at about 0300 hours, officers with the City of LaGrange Police Department responded to the location of 1014 Hogansville Road, LaGrange, Georgia, regarding a disturbance in the parking lot. As responding officers were pulling into the parking lot to address the disturbance call, Officer Brent Storey and Garrett Pressley heard one single gunshot that was fired in amongst a large crowd of people. As the large crowd immediately dispersed, Officers radioed for assistance and approached where the crowd had been to determine if anyone was injured. Officers then found the victim, Adrian Griffin, lying in the parking lot south of the entrance to the Good Times Bar suffering from a gunshot wound to his chest. Due to the large crowd at the location, the unknown location of the shooter, and the injuries to the victim the public safety response was significant. This response included eleven patrol officers, two Investigators and a Sergeant with the Special Investigations Section, a Detective and a Sergeant with the Criminal Investigations Section as well as a response from Chief Louis Dekmar all of the LaGrange Police Department, supplemented by the response of three deputies and a patrol Sergeant from the Troup County Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, three separate trucks/engines with the LaGrange Fire Department responded along with a medic truck from AMR.

During the initial on scene investigation by patrol officers and Investigators from the Special Investigations Section of the LaGrange Police Department, information was relayed from witnesses regarding a tag number, a vehicle description, and a possible suspect description. Responding officers were advised that the alleged shooter, described as a black male with long dread locks and a white tee shirt on, had left the scene in a red in color Cadillac. Officers were also provided a possible tag number. Upon completing a query of the tag number through GCIC, however, it did not come back to a red in color Cadillac and not within the geographic area of Troup County, Georgia.

During the course of the on scene investigation by responding members of the LaGrange Police Department Criminal Investigations Section, they were advised by William Barnes that, although he had a video surveillance system installed at the Good Times Bar, it was not activated on this night and did not capture any recordings. Officers also were met by many potential witnesses who advised they had seen nothing. Throughout the course of the investigation, four separate witnesses were identified and spoken to by Detectives. Additionally, two other witnesses were identified by patrol car video as having been present at the time of the shooting who have refused to cooperate with this investigation.

The investigation into this matter continued after members of the LaGrange Police Department completed the initial on scene investigation. This included a person of interest being developed after speaking with the victim several days after the shooting. A lineup was shown to the victim who identified the person of interest as the person that shot him. This “suspect” was then arrested, but vehemently asserted his innocence. The suspect was at that time provided the opportunity to perform a polygraph examination while additional reviews of patrol car videos were completed. This suspect ultimately passed his polygraph while asserting his innocence. Additionally, the suspect was found to have not been the shooter based upon evidence from patrol car video and was released.

The investigation then continued with a second person of interest being identified. A second lineup has been generated, however, the victim in this case has become uncooperative, apparently due to unrelated pending criminal charges, and has not responded to requests by Detectives to view the lineup.

As it relates to allegations by William Barnes regarding incompetence by the LaGrange Police Department, specifically the allegation that key information to this case was “lost”, these allegations are inaccurate and unfounded assertions that are not in keeping with the City of LaGrange Police Department policy or standard operating procedures. If in fact Mr. Barnes spoke with someone at the LaGrange Police Department who indicated the information provided by a witness was in fact lost, this information was unsubstantiated as it was logged by the Troup County 911 system’s computer automated dispatch system on the date and time of the incident.”

Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.