Upper End shut down amid complaints

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A tense atmosphere sparked by an argument between a customer and a security guard, and series of complaints to Mayor George Flaggs Jr. forced city officials to close the Upper End Lounge, 1306 Washington St., early Monday morning, and city officials are considering whether to ask the state to amend the resort status for the city’s bars.
Police Chief Walter Armstrong said the bar is closed until further notice, pending further investigation into the argument and a subsequent assault in which Armstrong said a man was struck in the head with a beer bottle as customers were leaving the bar.
Flaggs, Aldermen Michael Mayfield and Willis Thompson, and Armstrong were to meet with Larry Ray, the bar’s owner, at 10:30 a.m. today to discuss the incident.
Flaggs said Monday he received a stream of text messages from a downtown resident from about 11 p.m. Sunday until 2:50 a.m. Monday complaining about speeding, noise and a large crowd outside the bar. The mayor said he didn’t know the person who had texted him.
“After that last one, at 2:50, I went to go see for myself,” Flaggs said. “There was a crowd in the street and people were fighting everywhere. I saw at least six police cars and an ambulance. I called the (police) chief and told him to shut it down. This has got to stop.”
The Upper End is located above Lillian’s Restaurant on Washington Street. It was the second business in two months closed by the city because of violence on the premises.
City officials in December shut down the American Legion Post 3 hall after one man was shot and killed and two were wounded during a fight at a party. The hall remains closed for dances and parties, Armstrong said.
The Upper End has resort status, a designation granted by the Mississippi Department of Revenue that allows a business serving alcohol to stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
According to a list from the City Clerk’s office, about 20 buildings in the city have resort status, which is assigned to the building, not the business. At least three of those buildings have operating businesses that serve alcohol.
Any change to the status must be made by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board under state law.
Flaggs said Monday the Board of Mayor and Aldermen may consider asking the state ABC Board to amend the resort status of buildings in the city limits to a 2 a.m. closing time.
The city’s four casinos, he said, would not be included, because they are governed by the state Gaming Commission.
Armstrong said police were called to the bar about 2:04 a.m. Monday about an ongoing argument between a customer a security guard at the bar, and arrested the customer for disorderly conduct and failure to comply with the officers’ commands.
The incident with the beer bottle, Armstrong said, occurred as officers were telling people to leave the premises.
The victim, whose name was not released, was treated and released from River Region Medical Center, Armstrong said.
Mayfield urged caution amending the resort status.
“We would need to make it individual if we petition,” he said, adding there were two bars downtown that have never had any problems.
“You don’t want to hurt the people that’s doing what they need to do,” he said. “That’s the problem you have you’re almost asking to strip everybody or be more stringent on them.”
“You don’t want to hurt the good guys,” Flaggs said, adding he wanted City Attorney Nancy Thomas to research state law and wanted to look at the police reports before acting.
“We don’t want to move haphazardly,” he said.
Mayfield also suggested calling meeting of all the bar owners “and sit them down and lay the gauntlet down. We’ve had to do that before. You need to let them know our expectations as a governing board of this city. We have to be firm with them.”

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About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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