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Federal judge orders sheriff to stop road blocks

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

In an ongoing dispute between the county sheriff and a strip club, a federal judge granted an injunction ordering the sheriff not to set up road blocks.

The Tuesday ruling marks a triumph for Pink Pony South, a recently opened club in Forest Park. The club's parent company, Mia Luna, Inc., sued Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill in February, arguing the road blocks set up on the dead-end road leading to the club, during its first weeks in business, were "improper" and "unconstitutional."

Aubrey T. Villines, Jr., the attorney representing Mia Luna, Inc., said the decision "represents a huge victory for the Pink Pony and its patrons, against these unconstitutional road blocks."

The lawsuit claims Hill and his deputies violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee to free speech, the Fourth Amendment guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee to due process and equal protection. Mia Luna, Inc., is seeking damages, punitive damages, and a permanent injunction stopping the sheriff's alleged campaign against the strip club.

The court, through Judge Thomas Thrash's ruling on Tuesday, issued a preliminary prohibition, ordering the sheriff to stop, at least for now.

According to Villines, road blocks are a valid, law enforcement tool, but the sheriff used that tool to harass the club's patrons, attempting to drive the club out of business.

"It's Sheriff Victor Hill, and that about says it all," the attorney said. "Nothing he does would surprise us ... but this ruling shows that no one is above the law."

Hill's attorney, James E. Dearing, Jr., did not return a phone call seeking comment. The 15-page answer to the lawsuit, denies any and all of the "statements and allegations" in the complaint.

All the actual damage to Pink Pony, according to Dearing's defense, were caused by the owners of the Pink Pony. The sheriff didn't do anything wrong, Dearing argues, because "all of his actions or inactions ... were carried out in the good faith performance of his discretionary duties."

Hill has said quality-of-life issues are his top priority, as sheriff. Hill's billboards, around the county, declare his intention to put an end to loud music, loitering and littering. In his war on quality-of-life issues, Hill has closed down 13 massage parlors, which were allegedly fronts for prostitution, and has also threatened to seize video poker machines, only to later back down, when legal advisors told him the machines weren't against the law.

Villines said the club owners, who also own Forest Park's other strip club, the Crazy Horse Saloon, have a good working relationship with the City of Forest Park and the city's police department. There haven't been any conflicts between the club and the city, but the sheriff came into the city jurisdiction to put up the road blocks.

Villines is arguing the sheriff, despite being defined as the "chief law enforcement officer of the county," didn't even have the legal authority to enforce the law outside the Pink Pony. He legally should have left Forest Park policing to the Forest Park Police, the attorney said, because the sheriff's office doesn't have a contract with the city.

According to documents filed in federal court, Hill was "impermissibly expanding his office in contravention of law."

The judge's action temporarily restricts Hill's office.

The court case will move forward with a hearing on the sheriff's motion to dismiss the case. A date for that hearing has not yet been set.