This week, a jury in Conway, S.C. ruled against the City of Myrtle Beach. Jurors ruled that the city tortiously interfered with a small business owner harassing him to the point of closure. The city ultimately purchased the property the business occupied. This after using the full weight of government to shut the private business down on the basis of a bogus “nuisance” complaint.
We received a lot of inquiries from readers about the recent verdict against the City of Myrtle Beach wanting more information. I was present during much of the trial and can give my own interpretation of what the facts and arguments were that led the jury to rule against the City. I also reached out to Tucker Player, one of the attorneys for Henry Brewington, for a statement.
Full disclosure, Tucker is my personal lawyer as well.
Henry Brewington is the son of sharecroppers from Hemingway, South Carolina. By the age of seven, Henry was working in the fields with his parents and siblings. If Henry didn’t work, Henry didn’t eat. Henry didn’t even get to go to school unless it was raining, and that was only because he couldn’t be in the fields if it was raining. This led to a lack of any formal education for Henry, but he didn’t let that hold him back. Henry eventually travelled to New Jersey and began his own business, a night club. He met his wife Ginny while in New Jersey and eventually came home to Hemingway.
In Hemingway, Henry and his wife operated a beauty supply store (which they still operate to this day) and a night club. Henry eventually opened another night club in Hemingway and saved up a $300,000.00 nest egg for his family. Henry’s son convinced his parents to come to Myrtle Beach where they all thought they could make money and turn the nest egg into a legacy for Henry’s children and grandchildren.
It was the American Dream, and the Brewington’s were living it. Until they came to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Myrtle Beach is where the American Dream died for the Brewingtons.
Henry spent all of his savings, all $300,000.00, to renovate his leased space and opened Levelz Club in July 2014. In the span of just seven months, the City of Myrtle Beach regulated and harassed Henry Brewington out of business. On the first night Henry’s Club was open, the police were standing in his doorway at 1:59am. At 2:01am, they cited Henry because there were still a few people left in the Club. It was merely a harbinger of things to come.
In October, someone took a picture of a champagne bottle with a children’s sparkler attached. That picture was sent to the fire marshal, who promptly cited Henry for the Unlawful Sale of Fireworks. Henry pled guilty and banned sparklers from his Club.
In December, a SLED agent allegedly asked for a drink of Jim Beam and Coke shortly after 2:00am. The bartender served the officer and the Club was immediately cited for serving alcohol after 2:00am. I am not a lawyer, but that certainly sounds like entrapment. Tucker Player thought so too because he argued that point in his closing. More troubling is the fact that Ginny Brewington, Henry’s wife, testified that they never stocked Jim Beam in their clubs.
Henry paid the fine and made sure no alcohol was served after 2:00am again. On the same night, a police officer found a patron rolling a marijuana joint in the bathroom.
In January, Ginny Brewington called the police about a fight that started in the Club and moved to the parking lot outside. Club Security broke up the fight and expelled the participants, but they started fighting again in the Superblock shared parking lot.
Despite only being two blocks away. The police didn’t show up until much later after the Club was gone and the perpetrators long gone. What is important to note is that the City’s regulatory officer, Lisa Robertson, called Ginny Brewington a few days later to ask about the fight. According to Ms. Robertson’s own notes, she told Ginny Brewington that the call “would not be held against” the Brewingtons since they called it in. This was a lie.
On the weekend of January 23, 2015, which Ginny Brewington called “Armageddon Weekend,” no less than 6 Myrtle Beach police cars were in front and back of the club with their blue lights on “all night,” according to Ginny Brewington. The same thing happened on the following night, with no explanation whatsoever. Shortly before midnight, an officer pulled up in a golf cart and told the Brewingtons that “word on the street” was that there was going to be a retaliatory shooting for something that happened in Conway.
They provided no name, no description or any other details about the potential shooter or shooting.
The following Monday, Ginny Brewington called the City of Myrtle Beach to complain about what she saw as heavy-handed police harassment. In that conversation, Ginny told Lisa Robertson that she believed they were being treated differently than other clubs in the area.
Ginny specifically complained about the Heat Lounge. She told Robertson that she thought the Heat Lounge was bribing police officers because the cops were always over there and Heat never got in trouble for anything. According to Ginny Brewington, Lisa Robertson said she needed to call her back. When Robertson called Ginny back, she set an appointment on February 2, 2015 to meet with herself, Police Chief Warren Gall, and City Attorney Tom Ellenburg. The Brewingtons believed this was to discuss the police harassment complaint. But the City had other plans.
Ginny made her complaint about the police and Club Heat on January 26, 2015. On January 27, 2015, the VERY NEXT DAY, Lisa Robertson drafted a memo to Chief Warren Gall citing nine incidents at the Brewington’s club and recommending the club be shut down as a nuisance. So when the Brewington’s walked into the meeting on February 2, 2015, they were walking into an
ambush. In the meeting, there was no discussion of the police.
Tom Ellenburg informed the Brewingtons that they were a nuisance and he was going to shut them down. If they didn’t turn in their business license to him on that day, they would lose everything the put in the club.
Henry Brewington testified that he felt like it was one of the “sundown” laws used to drive African Americans from southern towns during segregation. He immediately found a woman to
purchase his business for $150,000.00, less than half of what he put into it.
So what did the City claim justified the nuisance? According to Brewington’s lawyers, “five joints and a sparkler.” Tucker Player had a timeline displayed during his closing argument and was kind enough to send me a copy. What is shows are the 9 incidents used to shut down
Levelz. Here is the summary from the actual trial:
THE NINE CALLS THAT ENDED LEVELZ
10/18/14 – Sparklers in Drinks
10/19/14 – Someone was smoking a joint on the dance floor
12/14/14 – SLED citation for serving after 2am
12/14/14 – One guy rolling a joint in the bathroom
1/18/15 – Owner and her security company self reports a fight that the police show up too late to observe. (this is the one Robertson said would NOT be used against the Brewingtons)
1/25/15 – Two people get into a fight, Levelz Security diffused the situation, but it started again in the parking lot. Police had to break up the fight.
1/25/15 – One guy with a 3 gram bag of MJ in the Levelz bathroom
1/25/15 – Cops find a guy smoking weed in his car in the parking lot
1/25/15 – There was a drunk in front of the club in the street
As you can see, the City of Myrtle Beach used the children’s sparkler and Ginny Brewington’s self-report of a fight to shut the club down. Brewington’s attorneys had a filed day with the absurdity of these calls. On cross examination, Robertson was asked how a single person rolling a joint in his car, in the parking lot, was a “safety” issue. Robertson responded it was about the safety of those people around the smoker who didn’t want the breathe the smoke.
In his own car?
Now, my readers may recall that there was a shooting close to Levelz in February, 2015. The City tried to focus the jury on the shooting (which assistant solicitor James Battle called a (“professional hit”) as the reason they shut Levelz down. But the evidence was in Robertson’s own notes: The City made the decision to shut Levelz down three weeks BEFORE the shooting. In addition, the evidence at trial was that after the meeting with Ellenburg, when he told Henry and Ginny he was going to run them our of town, they hired new security and turned the nightclub into a smoke free environment to make sure there were no more marijuana issues. That rule is what led to the victim of the shooting being expelled from the Club immediately before his execution. That’s right. The Brewingtons were enforcing the rules imposed by the City to kick the young man out of the club. He then walked away from the club and was shot NEXT DOOR, not in or around the Club. In fact, it was the armed security at Levelz that shot the assassin as he fled the scene.
In his closing argument, the Lion of Horry County, Tommy Brittain, railed against the City and government overreach. He demanded to know why Gall and Ellenburg were not there to testify. The entire courtroom was enraptured. What I witnessed in those 6 minutes of fire and fury were more powerful than anything any television show about lawyers could make up.
In the end, it was a good result for a good man. But more than that, it was a message to the City of Myrtle Beach. The citizens of Horry County will not tolerate this type of government interference and overreach. They will not tolerate bullies in public office. Most importantly, they have no problem handing big verdicts to the victims of the City’s transgressions.
Tucker was reluctant to say much about the pending cases, but he did explain the difference between the Brewington’s case and the other cases he and Tommy Brittain have against the City. He explained that the Brewingtons started in federal court with claims that their Constitutional rights were violated. The federal judge dismissed the Constitutional claims based on a Consent Order in which the Brewington’s agreed they were a nuisance. We told you earlier this month that the other Superblock cases survived their legal challenges. Tucker explained that even though the Brewingtons got a verdict of $500,000.00, they are limited to recover only $300,000.00 under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act. “There are no caps on Constitutional claims.” He said with a wry smile. “In fact, not only are there no caps, we can recover punitive damages and attorney fees.” When I asked him that that means for the City, he just smiled even wider.
One last thing. Twelve Horry County citizens found that the City of Myrtle Beach intentionally interfered with the Brewington’s business contract and awarded more than the maximum amount allowed by law. Yet, this is the only news outlet that reported on the verdict. The only one. What does that say about the new media in Myrtle Beach? Better yet, what does that say about the City’s grip on the media in Myrtle Beach. Even FitsNews is silent. This story is everything Will Folks preaches about on a daily basis: government overreach, to much regulation, and corruption in state government. Yet, he hasn’t even sent out a tweet. I can’t tell you what it means. Perhaps he is too wrapped up in the Murdaugh Murders to care about the small businesses any more. Such is not the case here. We will continue to expose the wrongdoings of the City of Myrtle Beach and any other government entity that preys on the pubic and stifles the free flow of capitalism and entrepreneurial spirit in American business. You can count on us. We aren’t going anywhere.