Editor’s Note: This story contains a quote that may be offensive to some readers.
The owner of a Rockingham nightclub that saw its alcohol permits suspended one week ago is accusing police of unfairly targeting his business, alleging that officers harass and intimidate his patrons.
And he said he believes mistreatment from some of the police officers is racially motivated.
Charles Pope, owner of P3 Bar & Night Club, located at 416 E. Broad Ave., told the Daily Journal this week that the Rockingham Police Department has singled out his business, and that he is being treated unfairly. Pope said reports from police officers of fights and trouble at his club are “extremely exaggerated,” and “it’s not like how they’re trying to make it out to be.”
Pope, who is white, said “the racial stuff is a biggie.”
“I believe it’s because the majority of my clientele are black Americans,” Pope said, noting that the Rockingham Police Department is predominately white. He said it’s not uncommon for uniformed officers to yell at his patrons and use racial slurs, including the N-word.
In response to Pope’s allegations, Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly said the accusations are not true. Kelly said Pope is on the defensive and making false claims as a distraction from the state ABC Commission action suspending his permits to sell beer and mixed drinks.
The suspensions took immediate effect, according to a statement issued Oct. 19 by the NC Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. The order cites a growing pattern of violence at the club, as alleged by a parade of police officers who signed sworn affidavits recently.
“Sworn statements of law enforcement suggest that public safety seems to be at increasing risk when P3 is open, so the ABC Commission has made the determination that it is appropriate immediately to suspend the alcohol permits held by this business,” said Zander Guy, Chairman of the ABC Commission.
“It’s just one thing after another,” Pope said, regarding police interference with his business. Pope alleges that on many weekend evenings, when his club was open, from 6 to 12 police cars were parked across the street. Officers also used traffic cones in nearby parking lots to keep P3 customers from using those lots, he said.
“The allegations he’s making about treatment being racially motivated are inaccurate,” Kelly said Friday. Kelly said he simply would not tolerate that type of behavior among his ranks.
Kelly also noted, “He’s not come to me and made any complaints.”
Pope recounted one night when a white police officer confronted a pair of his customers, two black men. The men were having a loud exchange of words, talking trash about who was better at a hand-held game they’d each played earlier. Pope said a white police officer in the parking lot yelled out to the men, “This ain’t no nigger fight ring. Get your monkey asses back in your car and get back to the projects.”
Pope said that’s just one example of many similar incidents involving his customers and Rockingham police officers.
“I’ve never heard any of our officers make a comment like that … it’s just an attempt on his part to make a case for his club,” Chief Kelly said of Pope.
“We tried to work with Mr. Pope, and met with him several times … I have at my office and at his business. He has never once made any complaints whatsoever to me” regarding harassment or mistreatment from police officers.
Kelly said it’s upsetting to hear such an allegation against one of his officers.
“Yes, it is (upsetting) because if that were true, I feel like he (Pope) would have called the chief and told him. It’s only now, that his license is suspended, that he makes these allegations,” Kelly said.
“Something like that is not something we tolerate, whatsoever,” Kelly added. “I would not tolerate it — period.”
Pope said he’s also upset the police continue to cite an incident in February 2012 where authorities claim a P3 patron died after a bouncer allegedly used a “choke hold” to subdue the man. The P3 security guard involved in the incident was charged with voluntary manslaughter, however, a judge hearing evidence in the case earlier this month dismissed the criminal charge.
Court records dated Oct. 10 and signed by Judge Scott Brewer say the judge found “no probable cause.”
Kelly acknowledged the case was dismissed but said that February night was just one of many violent episodes occurring at P3 and needed to be mentioned in recent affidavits to show the ABC the “totality of the incidents.”
Pope did admit that there have been nights where a large crowd got unruly, and nights when he’s even called for police intervention, but he said the troublemakers are not his customers but instead are outsiders who enter the property intending to cause a scene.
Pope, who opened the club in early 2011, said his vision was to create a Cheers-like establishment, and he said that’s what P3 is, a safe and friendly place to go.
“We have that friendly neighborhood atmosphere,” he said.
The club was usually open Thursday through Sunday nights, offering drinks and entertainment. Pope said his security staff of about six men do a good job keeping order at the club.
Numerous police affidavits paint a starkly different picture of the club that sits across from a Food Lion and next to a gun shop that is hugged by coils of razor wire.
One police officer stated in his affidavit, “My concern regarding P3 is that every week things are getting worse and eventually more people will be killed due to the weapons in the cars. I have observed bouncers instigate fights … .”
Kelly said Friday that the ABC Commission acted to suspend the permits of P3 based on a repeated pattern of violent activity that appeared to be escalating.
Many of the officers echoed a similar statement: “The majority of the calls (involving P3) are for fights but they have also included assaults, disturbances, intoxicated people in the roadway, damage to property, subjects with a gun, and shots fired calls,” according to affidavits filed with the ABC Commission.
Kelly said Pope will have a chance to appeal the permit suspensions and can call for a hearing with ABC officials.
“Once he appeals the suspension, he’ll have a chance to bring any evidence to court, including any complaints against the Rockingham Police Department,” Kelly said.
Kelly added that formal complaints made against the Rockingham Police Department are thoroughly investigated to determine if any policies were violated and any laws violated.
Pope said he intends to fight the suspensions, and as part of that he hopes to gather his own collection of statements from customers who say they’ve been mistreated by police. Pope said the club hasn’t been open for business since the permits were suspended Oct. 19, but he plans on being at the club the nights of Nov. 1-3 and is reaching out to the public to stop in and share stories of how they were treated by city police.
Although Pope said, “I’m not saying all Rockingham police officers are that way,” he said he has plenty of customers who feel they’ve been treated unfairly.
Many of the police officers who gave sworn statements tell a different story, and talk of aggressive behavior from crowds that have made the officers fear for their own safety, and that of the general public.
“The crowds are always unruly and have no respect for law enforcement,” said one 8-year veteran of the force. “I am very concerned for my safety as well as the other agencies that are called to assist us,” he said.
— Editor John Charles Robbins can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 13, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.