Champions Sports Bar sues Mpls, accuses city of trying to drive "black bars" out of business

Champions is seeking up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from the city.
Champions is seeking up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from the city.

Champions Sports Bar and Grill, located near Lake and Nicollet in Minneapolis's Lyndale neighborhood, alleges the city -- motivated by a desire to drive "establishments which cater to the African American community" out of business -- has been unlawfully harassing the bar and its ownership for the better part of two years.

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In a lawsuit, Champions seeks up to hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city for retaliation, defamation, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and violation of due process, among other claims.

Citing controversy and litigation surrounding the now-closed Gabby's Saloon and Eatery's liquor license, Champions' lawsuit accuses the city of having "an established history, custom, policy, and practice of violating the due process rights of establishments which cater to the African American community by attempting to impose unnecessary liquor license conditions on those establishments in an attempt to drive those establishments out of business."

Champions' story begins in the spring of 2011. From the lawsuit (all subsequent blockquotes taken directly from Champions' court filing):

In the Spring of 2011 [Champions owner Rick] Nelson became concerned that the bus stop on the corner of West Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue was being used by drug dealers and gang members. In June 2011, Nelson raised his concerns at a meeting of the Lyndale Neighborhood Association Crime Prevention Meeting. Nelson was told to bring the issue to the attention of Minneapolis City Council Member Meg Tuthill.

But MPD Fifth Precinct Commander Matt Clark was allegedly none too happy when he found out about Nelson raising his concerns to Tuthill:

When Clark was made aware of Nelson's concerns, he became enraged that a business was complaining about crime in his Precinct to a Council Member. Clark initiated a plan to retaliate against Nelson, Champions, and the African American patrons Champions serves...

Clark ordered City police officers under his command to conduct an undercover "Sting" operation at the corner and [sic] West Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue and do everything possible to link any criminal activity detected to Champions.

The alleged "sting" operation came to fruition last March, when police charged 14 people in connection with alleged crack cocaine dealing at the bar. At the time, Commander Clark said: "When incidents of narcotics trafficking surrounding a particular business are reported to us again and again we are compelled to use whatever means the law allows to stop this activity."

But Nelson, citing the fact that in 2007 Champions was a finalist for a national "Restaurant Neighbor" award because staff helped prevent more than 30 drug deals in the area and gave out $2,000 in rewards to those reporting illegal activity, claims the notion his bar and restaurant is a drug den is completely false.

Champions is not a hub for trouble; rather the bus stop at West Lake Street and Blaisdell Avenue [is]...

[Commander] Clark also said that Champions is a "haven for crack cocaine dealing." This statement is also patently false. Clark made these and other false statements regarding Champions out of malice, as his goal was to retaliate against Champions for complaining about crime in his precinct to a City Council member.

The lawsuit also notes that out of the 14 people charged in connection with the March sting, only two were successfully prosecuted.

(For more, click to page two.)

Nelson also claims the city has repeatedly harassed him about alleged noncompliance with the 60/40 rule, which requires bars near residential areas that opened after October 14, 1983 to make 40 percent of their proceeds from non-alcohol sales. But Champions opened in 1981, meaning it should be grandfathered in. Nelson claims the city even went after his liquor license over alleged 60/40 rule violations before he conclusively proved Champions opened before the rule went into effect and therefore isn't required to abide by it.

Finally, the lawsuit provides startling details about an alleged harassment incident that occurred just a few nights ago on the evening of December 4:

On December 4, 2012, one of Champions' security guards, Isodore Randle, left Champions and got into his truck to go drive home. A police officer under Clark's command approached Randle's truck, pointed his loaded gun to Randle, grabbed Randle out of his truck, and threw Randle on the hood of his squad car. The police officer then handcuffed Randle, searched him, and put him in the back of a squad car. No contraband was found on Randle. Randle was terrified that he was going to be shot. Randle was also publicly humiliated, as many people witnessed this incident. Randle is African American and the police officer is Caucasian...

The Police's intent on December 4, 2012 was to harass Champions and one of its employees.

In a statement released after the lawsuit was filed, Nelson said: "I've worked hard all my life, employ over 30 people, and play by the rules... I don't know why they've targeted me like this."

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