Courts & Corrections

Rutland City denies police bias claims

The Local
The owner of The Local nightclub in downtown Rutland has filed a federal lawsuit against the city’s police department alleging their discriminatory practices forced him to shutter his establishment last month. Photo by Alan J. Keays/VTDigger
An attorney for Rutland City is disputing claims of bias policing and wants a federal judge to toss out a lawsuit from a former nightclub owner alleging discriminatory police tactics forced him out of business.

The city, in its recent filing, also asked the judge to require Charles Greeno III, who brought the lawsuit, to reimburse the city for its cost of defending itself against the action.

Greeno, who owned The Local, which closed in early February, filed a federal lawsuit last month against the city and the police department, seeking more than $75,000 in damages.

City officials at the time the lawsuit was filed declined comment. Last week an attorney representing the city filed a four-page response, citing several defenses to the allegations, including the “exercise of policing function for public safety.”

In response to many of the allegations in the lawsuit, the city’s attorney simply wrote one word: “Denied.”

Greeno opened the nightclub in 2011 and said in the lawsuit all was going well until 2012 when the police department began targeting African-Americans at the bar. Police claimed the patrons were dealing drugs, however, no drug dealing was taking place, Greeno alleges.

The nightclub is described in the lawsuit as a place that plays dance music and “caters to the hip hop culture,” featuring DJs from New York and Boston, often attracting African-American patrons from around the area.

An ever-increasing police presence outside the establishment, Greeno’s lawsuit stated, was keeping people away.

In 2015, when Brian Kilcullen became the city’s police chief, Greeno said he expressed his concern to Kilcullen about the alleged tactics of the police department.

“Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen(’s) response was that it was data driven, he did not see any problems and that he personally has shut down many bars that he didn’t like,” the lawsuit stated.

Attorney Kaveh Shahi, representing the city, wrote in a reply to the lawsuit that a meeting with the new chief did take place and Greeno requested that the police “discontinue its presence” at closing time.

“(Greeno) was told that that the Department would allocate its resources consistent with public safety issues,” Shahi added.

After that meeting, Greeno’s lawsuit alleges, the police presence increased, with cruisers parking in front of the nightclub, with their blue lights on, and only outside The Local, not other bars in the city.

“In February 2017 as a direct result of the unlawful and discriminatory policing policy being selectively enforced against Mr. Greeno,” attorney Matthew Hart, representing Greeno, wrote in the lawsuit, “Mr. Greeno could no longer financially keep his bar open and he was forced to close The Local suffering significant economic damages.”

Decisions from the state Liquor Control Board also had been issued regarding The Local over the past year.

An incident at The Local in May 2016 led to a decision a few months later in August in which the board called for a 21-day suspension of its liquor license. In that incident, which took place outside the bar, a man who had left the nightclub threatened others with a chainsaw, according to the state’s board ruling.

“Although we find serious violations here, and there is considerable enforcement history, there appears to be increased efforts with our regulations and cooperation with law enforcement,” that decision read.

“For those reasons, a sanction such as revocation or a lengthy suspension as (the Department of Liquor Control) seeks is not warranted at this time. We conclude instead, that a 21-day suspension of Licensee’s liquor licenses is appropriate.”

Then, shortly after the nightclub closed, on Feb. 23, the Liquor Control Board revoked the liquor licenses for The Local, effective March 1, and issued a $5,000 fine. That decision involved others incidents, including, according to the board, fighting inside the bar and the over-serving of an off-duty bartender on her birthday.

“The Board previously warned that should Licensee commit further violations, license revocation was likely to occur,” the board wrote in that decision. “Numerous opportunities have been given to this Licensee, which has continued to be a substantial and ever increasing threat to public safety.”

Neither attorney in the case, Shahi or Hart, could be reached Wednesday for comment.

Hart said in a previous interview that his client decided against continuing to fight the city and the police department.

The attorney added, “We think part of it, the reason why the liquor board was taking a certain position was at the behest of the Rutland City Police Department.”

Greeno did not take part in the hearing that led the revocation order.

“Licensee did not appear at the hearing and notified the Board and DLC counsel that it did not intend to appear at the hearing,” the ruling stated.

A different owner has since attempted to open a new bar in the downtown spot vacated by The Local, but the city Board of Aldermen denied the request for a liquor license.

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Alan J. Keays

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