Government

Cedar Rapids finds curbing violence at after-hours clubs not easy

Bring-your-own-booze clubs have no liquor license to enforce

A Cedar Rapids police car. (Gazette file photo)
A Cedar Rapids police car. (Gazette file photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — At least one City Council member said he wants to clamp down on bring-your-own-booze clubs that stay open into the early morning hours — well past traditional bar close at 2 a.m. — and where rowdy behavior, violent episodes and calls to police have become all too common.

But the city appears to have little leverage.

Because the establishments don’t hold liquor licenses, authorities say they don’t have a clear mechanism for regulation. And in the case of strip clubs, courts have provided protections that further tie the hands of local authorities.

“It’s not just in Cedar Rapids, but throughout Iowa cities have expressed concern with the inability to regulate establishments that are open until 5 a.m. and where patrons are allowed to bring their own alcohol,” said Dale Todd, a council member who began seeking solutions after a gunfire exchange in March outside a strip club left at least two people wounded.

City staff say the matter still is being reviewed and did not have any updates on progress.

“The city is concerned about violence that occurs at after-hours clubs, including the incident this past weekend,” Maria Johnson, a city spokeswoman, said last week of a June 9 melee outside Club Mingle in the northeast quadrant. “Staff is currently reviewing the permitting process and researching what other cities do to address after-hours clubs.”

Recommendations likely would be brought first to the city’s Public Safety & Youth Services Committee, she said.

Public data shows Cedar Rapids police have made 60 service calls since the beginning of the year to three after-hours clubs — Woody’s Show Club, Lumberyard, and Club Mingle — totaling more than 10,000 minutes of police time.

Most of the calls were in the early morning after midnight.

City officials believe these are the only three after-hours clubs in the city, and Club Mingle recently closed, the owner posted on Facebook in response to the brawl.

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Calls for service data includes officer-initiated visits, such as bar checks, as well as others where the property may have been only indirectly related to the call.

On June 9, police were called to Club Mingle, 1140 Blairs Ferry Road NE, at 4:48 a.m. for reports of shots fired and people yelling. Four officers spent a combined 268 minutes responding.

Social media video depicts a vicious brawl involving a dozen or so people and dozens more watching in the parking lot outside the club. One man appears to get knocked out cold after being struck from behind with a hard object while fighting continued around him. He moved only after being revived by others.

Council member Ashley Vanorny said she forwarded the video to officers and her council colleagues.

“If this becomes a regular occurrence at any establishment within our city, I will swiftly work to correct behavior or close the establishment because our first priority will remain ensuring safety to our citizens,” she said.

Police had been called to Club Mingle seven times totaling 1,225 minutes of officer time since May 22 when its use permit changed to allow it to stay open later. Club Mingle is described on its Facebook page as a dance club featuring R&B and hip-hop music from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. It is not a strip club.

The club owner did not respond to requests for comment.

About 4:20 a.m. March 24, officers were called to Woody’s, a strip club at 9395 Sixth St. SW, for reports of shots fired. Eleven officers spent a combined 5,456 minutes responding to the incident. A man was shot and injured outside the club and a second person arrived at a hospital reporting he had been shot at Woody’s.

Woody’s had 28 calls for service consuming 7,013 minutes of officers’ time since Jan. 1.

Arrests have not been made in the Woody’s or Club Mingle incidents, and those cases remain under investigation, according to police.

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The third venue — Lumberyard, a strip club at 5910 Fourth St. SW — had 25 police calls for service consuming 1,839 minutes since Jan. 1.

An Iowa Supreme Court decision — Mall Real Estate LLC v. City of Hamburg — prevents cities from “regulating establishments that have obscene materials, including nude or seminude performances,” although cities can restrict the location of such establishments through zoning, Johnson said.

Cedar Rapids has a nuisance property ordinance, known as SAFE-CR, designed to help authorities hold property owners accountable for strains on police or other city services. The ordinance covers “all properties including rental, owner occupied, commercial and industrial,” but largely has not applied to the clubs.

The Lumberyard was considered a nuisance property in 2014, but became “in compliance” in 2015 and has not received any “founded call for service letters from SAFE-CR in the past two years,” according to information from Johnson. Woody’s has had one founded call for service letter in the past two years for a disturbing the peace call in October; and the city did not have a file on Club Mingle.

“SAFE-CR does not penalize a property owner or business in which the property owner or the business (is) the victim in a call for service,” Johnson said. “In many cases, the Lumberyard or Woody’s called police for assistance, or one of their employees called for assistance.

Messages seeking comment from the Lumberyard and Woody’s were not returned.

Council member Marty Hoeger said he was caught be surprise by the violent episodes. He said he would like to see options, noting “if it happens after midnight, it is probably not good.”

“There is nothing we can do to pull a liquor license or not renew, so what levers do we have?” Hoeger asked. “What can we do to make sure these clubs are safe and they have a code of conduct?”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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