U.S. District Court Judge: Cops Didn't Discriminate Based on Race

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Matt Geiger

A United States District Court judge in July of 2012 ruled that the City of Middleton’s police force did not discriminate against a local nightclub because of its clientele’s race.

In a 23-page opinion and order, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled entirely with the defendant, in addition to rebuking the plaintiff, Scott Piernot and his company, Garrganntuan Ventures, LLC. 

Over the course of two and a half years, Piernot and his company ran Scatz Sports Bar and Nightclub. While open, Scatz was the largest nightclub in Dane County, with an occupancy limit of 949 people. 

Scatz came into frequent conflict with the Middleton Common Council and local law enforcement agents. It was eventually designated a public nuisance by the city. 

According to Monday’s ruling, the Middleton Police Department responded to more than 500 calls – some of which were officer-initiated – and “issued more than 100 citations and arrests for incidents related to the nightclub, ranging from noise complaints and traffic problems to fights, thefts and a nearby shooting.”

Middleton Police Chief Brad Keil eventually recommended that the establishment’s liquor license be revoked. In 2011 Piernot voluntarily surrendered the license, saying he believed it was a foregone conclusion the city would eventually shut the club down. 

When he applied for a new license a few months later, saying Scatz had taken new steps to curb problems, the request was denied. Around the same time, Piernot filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and its police department. 

Naming Keil and Captain Noel Kakuske as defendants, the suit claimed the department discriminated against Scatz because the business featured hip-hop music and attracted African American patrons in the largely white City of Middleton.

The plaintiffs alleged the city’s actions violated the Fourteenth and First Amendments.

In her ruling, District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the plaintiffs “failed to provide evidence that any actions taken by the defendants were motivated by the race of plaintiffs’ patrons or by the music plaintiffs played at their nightclub.”

Crabb said the evidence showed police acted in response to concerns about public safety, not race. 

She also noted “many of [the] plaintiffs’ proposed facts are so conclusory, vague or unsubstantiated as to preclude meaningful consideration.”

Crabb also ruled against Piernot’s claim that the State of Wisconsin’s definition of a “disorderly house” is overly vague and therefore unconstitutional.

Crabb provided a litany of documented events at Scatz, concluding with the night of Feb. 25, 2011, when a police officer was punched in the head, multiple fights broke out in the nightclub’s parking lot, and patrons who had been at Scatz were involved in a shooting nearby.

Crabb said such incidents qualify as disorderly, riotous, indecent or improper. She said Scatz fell “squarely into” the state’s definition of a disorderly house.

Crabb granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on behalf of the City of Middleton, Keil and Kakuske. 

Middleton Mayor Kurt Sonnentag said the ruling came as no surprise. 

“I was pretty confident the city would prevail based on the arguments our attorneys made prior to any court appearances,” Sonnentag said. “I have lots of confidence in Murphy Desmond [the city’s law firm].”

Keil said he was “pleased with the court’s ruling.”

“Our officers work hard to help keep our community safe,” he continued. “That includes working with licensed premises to help them make their businesses safe for their patrons, their staff and the public safety officials who may have to respond to complaints at those premises.  We will continue to do so.”

Piernot said he disagreed with Crabb’s ruling and her review of the evidence. 

“Clearly evidence showed a vastly improving situation at Scatz with a $150,000 investment into the building to fix the sound issue between [a neighboring] hotel and Scatz,” Piernot continued. He said the business had “totally overcome the initial issues” it faced due to large crowds. 

“Only when I decided to show more diversity in the music being booked at Scatz because of being labeled as a racist for not presenting hip-hop regularly, did Middleton close Scatz,” Piernot added. 

“I am very proud of all Scatz did for charities such as Gilda’s Club, Middleton Outreach Ministry, the Middleton High School Boosters and many others,” he concluded. “Scatz raised $300,000 for charities in two and a half years.”

Piernot said he is “seriously considering an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.”

Gesina Seiler, an attorney for the city provided through its insurance carrier, indicated plaintiffs have 30 days to file notice of an appeal. Depending on actual filing times, that would mean Scatz has until August 8-9 to file.



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