The Charlotte City Council on Monday approved a modified dance hall ordinance that the city now believes will hold up in court.
The ordinance is designed to give Charlotte-Mecklenburg police leverage in controlling and possibly closing parties where large groups of teens or adults may gather.
But in 2014, a Charlotte resident, Manning Sweat, challenged the ordinance in court and won.
A District Court judge found in September 2014 that the 2001 ordinance was “unconstitutionally vague” in that it was written so broadly that it could be applied to numerous businesses for which it was never intended.
Sweat’s defense team had pointed out that the ordinance was written in such a way that places like Monkey Joe’s indoor playground and the Harris YMCA would be required to have the roughly $3,000 dance hall permit because they allowed dancing.
The modified ordinance was unanimously approved by council. It changes the language from a place where dancing is permitted to one where a “dance open to the public is held.”
It also exempts “bona fide nonprofit charitable organizations.”
The ordinance was created originally to curtail raves and other parties where drugs and other criminal activity might occur.
Opponents of the ordinance say that CMPD has unfairly targeted minority businesses. The judge, Donnie Hoover, found that of the 15 dance halls cited for not having a permit between 2009 and 2014, 13 were owned by African-Americans, one by a Hispanic and one by someone who is white.
Of those 15 people charged with operating an illegal dance hall, only one was found guilty. The others were either found not guilty, as Manning was, or had their charges dismissed.
The revised ordinance was approved on the same night that the City Council also approved a civil rights resolution that states the police will not engage in racial profiling.
Council member Al Austin asked whether the resolution would ease concerns that the police were only targeting minorities.
“Will our civil rights resolution put some ease to this?” he asked.
The city said the resolution deals with arbitrary profiling in which people are targeted solely based on their race, ethnicity or other characteristic. Hagemann said that when police are monitoring dance halls, the police would have a reason to act other than the owner or promoter’s race.
The policy focuses on two types of dance halls.
One is bars licensed by the Mecklenburg Alcohol Beverage Control Board that stay open past 2:30 a.m. ABC officials still have leverage over those businesses, and could suspend their licenses if people were found to be selling drugs or engaging in other criminal activity.
But CMPD said Monday the ABC officials aren’t as motivated as CMPD to monitor a club after drinks are no longer served.
“ABC has a diminished interest after 2:30 a.m.,” said CMPD Maj. Coerte Voorhees.
He said the ordinance is “another tool in the tool box” to keep clubs in compliance.
The city has issued 10 dance hall permits this year. They include bars such as Crystals on The Plaza; Las Mamacitas on East Sugar Creek Road; and La Zima on Eastway Drive.
Attorney Katie Clary has represented the Caribbean bar Crystals, which has spent about $3,000 a year for a decade on the permits. The bar has an ABC permit, and Clary has said it’s an unfair tax on minorities.
Police will also use the ordinance to curtail or shut down impromptu parties.
In Manning Sweat’s case, his recording studio on West 24th Street hosted a Sweet Sixteen birthday party in 2013. There was a fight outside the studio, and Sweat’s son – who had been providing security – was shot in the leg.
Police cited Sweat for not having a permit for the party.
“It’s hard at 3 a.m. when we respond to acts of public disturbance,” Voorhees said. “This gives immediate action to close down a place.”
Phillip Herbert is the only person found guilty of not having a permit in at least six years. He said he was involved in organizing a party in 2014 during the CIAA basketball tournament at the Carole Hoefener Center on East Seventh Street.
“It seems like it’s a money game,” Herbert said. “I got fined for an event that I didn’t put on.”