Dorchester County officials said they believe the Oakbrook area’s safety will greatly improve now that a bar and lounge, known for community complaints and unlawful behavior the last year, will soon be evicted.
During a special-called county council meeting Monday, the governing body voted unanimously to revoke the business license for Twenty Grand Bar and Lounge LLC, located on Dorchester Road inside the Dorchester Village strip mall. The decision occurred after a roughly 90-minute hearing.
The county heard from five witnesses. Joenathan Chaplin, attorney for the business, presented zero witnesses; he said his client was out of town on a pre-planned vacation.
While at the hearing’s start Chaplin made a motion for the council to entertain a second continuance in the case, stating the business’s owners Ronald Dailey and son Hubert Dailey, needed more time to prepare for the event, council members voted 7-0 to deny the motion and proceed with the hearing. The county also said the defense had plenty of time to prep.
County Spokesperson Tiffany Norton said the county business license ordinance requires the county hold a revocation hearing within 30 days of a license suspension to decide if a revocation is necessary. The license was suspended Feb. 21, but county staff allowed Twenty Bar and Lounge, at the owner’s request, to push back the hearing date by five months.
In addition to a shooting and fire at the business, the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office said from July 1, 2018 to June 24, 2019 the agency recorded at least 50 incident reports — many of which occurred after the license was suspended — and 200-plus calls for service.
“Over the last year we’ve observed activity that alluded to the business being a nuisance,” said Daniel Prentice, county CFO.
Joy Krutek, the county’s business license administrator, said she agreed to suspend the license after noticing a “continual pattern” of “unlawful activity” at the site; she, too, said the business was “being a nuisance” to the community. However, Krutek did clarify that another business, also located inside the bar and lounge’s building, has not had any problems with the county or law enforcement.
Criminal activity at the property has included theft, gun activity, other violence and a lewd act, according to county officials.
“I saw a continued pattern—that’s my real concern,” said Councilman David Chinnis after he reviewed sheriff’s office reports and other related county documents. “I’m kind of floored (the owner) allowed that to continue after being notified.”
A South Carolina Law Enforcement Division investigation, in conjunction with the sheriff’s office, also revealed the business was violating state law by selling liquor by the bottle, not just in drinks, according to Lt. Frank Thompson with the sheriff’s office.
Also, county officials said the business was cited and convicted of over occupancy. Melissa Hopkins, the county’s chief building inspector, told the council during one particular visit to the site, she estimated about 300 people were inside the business, though for safety reasons it’s legally allowed to hold only 99 persons.
“It was literally shoulder-to-shoulder, wall-to-wall, back-to-back people,” Hopkins said.
“I got a number of tips, complaints and personal knowledge that they were having issues with overcrowding,” he said.
But Chaplin told the council he felt the county’s decision was possibly racially motivated.
“I don’t know why Twenty Grand is being targeted but no other (business) is being targeted,” he said.
In response, Krutek said the license suspension letter wasn’t issued “in the spur of the moment”; it was based on continued criminal activity. To reiterate, Prentice said the county approached the issue solely from a public safety standpoint.
“And that gives us reason to investigate that business,” Prentice said.
Chaplin also said that after the county contacted the business about its concerns, he and the owner sat down with sheriff’s officials to “come up with a way to co-exist,” which included talk of installing security cameras on the property.
“I think Twenty Grand deserves another chance,” Chaplin said. “(All I) ask is that Twenty Grand be treated fairly (so the owner can) feed his family, pay his taxes and do what needs to be done.”
But the county is confident in its final decision. Bradley Mitchell, deputy county attorney, said without the county stepping in, the problem would escalate, and grow “worse and worse and worse.”
“We’re excited about the action that was taken and believe it’s going to ultimately benefit the community,” Prentice said.