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Nightclub to challenge business license revocation

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

In September, Interim Clayton County Community Development Director Alex Cohilas revoked the business license of The Spot, a nightclub located at 8514 Ga. Highway 85 in Jonesboro.

The establishment, which has been the scene of two widely reported shootings and a number of other, reported incidents, will challenge Cohilas' ruling in an appeal hearing before the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

The hearing will take place at 5 p.m., at the Clayton County Administration Building, located at 112 Smith Street in Jonesboro.

Following a petition from the Clayton County Police Department, Cohilas held a hearing on Aug. 14 of last year to determine if The Spot's owner, Expedicto Marmol, "was engaged in any unlawful activity," according to hearing documents.

After listening to the testimony of three detectives, a special agent, and a lieutenant, Cohilas determined that the police department had been called "85 times to The Spot's location" since Nov. 12, 2002, over reports of incidents involving "armed robberies, rape, domestic disturbances, vehicle thefts, fighting, public drunkenness, public indecency, the sale and/or use of illegal substances, furnishing alcohol to minors, a shooting and a homicide," according to hearing documents.

According to the documents, officers also reported: Smelling the odor of burnt marijuana circulating inside the club on March 8, 2008; four drug arrests and one arrest for a minor in possession of alcohol on Nov. 15, 2008; a December 2008 homicide, in which a man was shot dead inside The Spot while playing billiards; two "additional drug cases" made on Feb. 27, 2009; an April 2009 shooting outside The Spot following an altercation inside the nightclub over spilled beer; and three employees of The Spot being cited by police for not properly displaying alcohol permits, and a fourth employee cited for not having a permit on April 17, 2009.

On Sept. 8, Cohilas, in his position as Interim Community Development Director, concluded that, based on "certain exhibits offered by the Police Department as evidence, I find that there is sufficient evidence, for which objection was waived by Licensee's counsel, to warrant the revocation" of Marmol's business license.

Maj. Ken Green, legal advisor for the Police Department, said that a "lack of security" and "the type of clientele they are attracting create a heightened sense of danger" at The Spot. He said it was necessary for the county to take some kind of action.

"You have a situation where the owner has no control of the club," Green said. "By consequence, a lot of these actions are occurring there. Something has to be done to close this place, or change it somehow. We're not going to tolerate clubs that become places where people can get shot or killed."

Green said The Spot would be required to close its doors for good if Marmol's appeal is denied by the Board of Commissioners. Marmol's attorney, Albert Wallace, said Cohilas' decision was based on the assumption that Marmol "enabled disturbance of the peace," and he argued that "nobody [working for The Spot] has been charged with disturbing the peace." Wallace said Marmol has cooperated with police and has been "a victim" in many of the incidents cited by police.

"They had television cameras on the guy at the time of the shooting [in Dec. 2008]," Wallace said. "That crime was largely solved because that proprietor had cameras there that identified the shooter ... the restaurant had taken precautions. The police department, in order to make their case, has offered evidence of events that have little to do with the licensee, but in the aggregate, makes it seem like, because of this restaurant alone, the police have to report out there every 15 or 20 minutes. The truth is, no employee has been arrested at the restaurant."

Wallace also challenged the right of Cohilas -- who also serves as the county's fire chief and chief of staff -- to make a ruling based on evidence. He argued that in order to have a fair hearing, it should be conducted by an experienced administrative law judge.

"The director, while a very good fireman, has no background, education, or experience dealing with evidentiary presentations," Wallace said. "He [Cohilas] has no way of knowing when due process has been observed."

Green said Cohilas was acting in accordance with his powers as Interim Community Development Director. "The board [of commissioners] has given the department of Community Development the power to issue licenses," Green said. "The same person who has the ability to give the license, has the ability to remove the license. We put the evidence before the director and the director agreed with us that it needed to be shut down."

Cohilas offered only a brief comment, saying that the issue "is still in appeal."

"The county ordinance has been in place for decades," he said. "The rules concerning how the hearing would be conducted were disseminated well in advance. This is a typical ploy by any attorney, who didn't get the outcome they wanted."