LaGrange considering new bar regulations

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The LaGrange City Council is considering several ordinance changes to deal with recent issues at bars in the downtown area, including potentially banning additional bars altogether.

The discussion stems from a violent incident on Nov. 4 where a crowd outside a bar on Main Street downtown refused to disperse and potentially led to a homicide at a second location on Daniel Street where Tabious Frazier was killed. 

Jacorious Jamar Thomas, 32, and Traveous Kindrez Rosser, 23, and Jaylin Gates, 17, were later arrested and charged with murder for the incident.

Chief Garrett Fiveash showed the council data from the last three years that showed there were a substantial number more arrests at 86’d than Main Street Pub but both had a significant number of calls and arrests.

According to Fiveash, 86’d had had 38 incident calls that resulted in 25 arrests so far this year. The Main Street Pub has had 24 incidents that resulted in 13 arrests.

Fiveash explained that it’s not just the number of arrests that show the disparity. He said 86’d had more serious offenses. He said they had marijuana arrests, accused rapes and robberies, shots fired and crowd control calls. The pub has a couple of serious incidents in the same timeframe including an incident of aggravated battery and furnishing alcohol to a minor.

“If you have a place that serves alcohol, we know we’re going to have drunken disorderly, we know we are going to have open container violations. That’s the cost of doing business, but these are the things that really concern us where people get hurt, potentially the public, patrons and our officers when they respond,” Fiveash said.

Fiveash showed the council security video of an incident outside 86’d where dozens of disorderly people filled the sidewalk and street outside the bar. Officers attempted to disperse the crowd, but people just ignored them, he said.

“We just don’t have the manpower to address those types of crowds,” Fiveash said, saying they can’t really arrest 100 people even if they did. 

Fiveash provided suggestions to the council to address some of the issues stemming from the bars downtown. 

First, Fiveash asked that the police department be allowed to — at their discretion — shut down a bar for the remainder of the evening or potentially even the weekend if incidents at bars go so far as to interrupt public safety or traffic.

Fiveash also asked the council to reconsider and do away with the city’s civil marijuana charge and return to using the state charge.

“The civil charge is less than $100 and no jail time. Which means we take you down to the PD. We write you a ticket. We fingerprint and turn you loose if you don’t have a criminal record. We’re asking to go back to using the state charge exclusively, which is up to a $1,000 fine and jail time. It’s got a little bit more teeth.”

Fiveash said marijuana is common in these situations and being able to arrest an offender would take people who are causing issues out of play for the remainder of that evening, instead of them being fingerprinted and returning to the scene. 

The police department is also asking the city to require bars to have two certified officers as security. 

“If a particular establishment is the problem, I would put that burden on the establishment of solving the problem not on the city,” Fiveash said, noting he does not have enough officers to bring downtown and keep the peace all night.

Fiveash also suggested requiring the bars to have metal detectors. He suggested bars with a capacity under 100 being allowed to use metal detector wands and larger bars being required to have walk-thru detectors.

City Manager Meg Kelsey also suggested considering modifying the city’s zoning ordinance to remove bars and nightclubs altogether. Both current bars would be grandfathered in, she said. Wild Leap and the upcoming Nutwood location downtown would not be affected as they are different zoning designations.

Councilman Nathan Gaskin suggested that the businesses themselves be cited when their patrons violate city policy, such as obstructing the street or sidewalk.

“What I can’t understand is how we let this go for so long,” Gaskin said. “The business needs to be cited period. They need to be cited for obstructing the street. They need to be cited for obstructing the sidewalk or for having a public gathering without a permit.”

Kelsey said that with the previous incident, the police department showed up and addressed the crowd. The crowd then moved to an event center location, where there was a murder. Because of this, the council is also looking into regulating event centers.

“I love it. I think it’s a great start because you’re holding the businesses and patrons accountable,” Councilman Leon Childs said. “I’ve seen the uptick in crime stuff when we changed the marijuana law, so I’m with that 100 percent and holding these businesses accountable because they should be able to control if you’ve got that type of property then you should be able to control them and not using all our resources.”

Councilman Gaskin pushed back on reverting the marijuana ordinance.

“The intent was to keep people from going to jail for having such a such a small amount, and now we’re letting one impact the other. I don’t like that. We have to deal with the club first. Deal with the bar first before we start going after the marijuana ordinance,” Gaskin said.

Fiveash said that they want it to still be discretionary as a tool to get people out of an environment when they are causing a problem.

Councilman Jim Arrington voiced support for the potential changes, saying he worries about people being able to drop off their children safely at the movie theater downtown because of the incidents outside the bars.

City Attorney Jeff Todd said staff could prepare a potential ordinance for consideration as early as the Dec. 12 council meeting.