The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 19, 2013

Landlord: Code, police calls put kibosh on party place

By Jeff Lehr

JOPLIN, Mo. — While multiple misdemeanor charges have yet to play out in court, building code regulations apparently have prompted the owner of a building to pull the plug on its use for dance parties that two brothers have been throwing on Saturday nights at 1202 S. Wall Ave.

Seventeen people were arrested at or near the location in the early morning hours of April 7 during what police termed “a near riot” involving about 200 people. Officers broke up another purported party at the address last weekend, serving a search warrant and arresting four on misdemeanor offenses.

This time, Jeremy Latham, 26, and his brother, David Latham, 32, were charged with violating the city’s building code. David Latham also was charged with obstruction and possession of marijuana.

Mike Hindbaugh, owner of the building, told the Globe this week that he spoke with the Lathams on Sunday after their arrests, and they agreed to give up their lease.

“I told them, ‘We’re done. You’re finished,’” Hindbaugh said. “They said they agreed.”

Hindbaugh said the brothers’ continuing issues with police and city codes necessitated that he take action with respect to the lease.

The Lathams could not be reached for comment this week. Jeremy Latham, who already was facing charges of operating a business without a license and not having a liquor permit, complained to the Globe after those citations that police targeted African-Americans in the arrests they made the night of April 6-7 and then mischaracterized to local media what led up to those arrests.

Despite the racial and ethnic diversity of the crowd of young people gathered at the address that night, 15 of the 17 arrested were black, he said. He also questioned why police showed up at the address in the first place, four patrol cars deep.

Jeremy Latham said police contend “fights broke out inside and outside. Who did they arrest for fighting?”

Just one person was charged with fighting, he pointed out. A purported large fight, which police said started inside the building shortly before 3 a.m. and ultimately provided the exigent circumstance that officers used to enter without a search warrant and shut the place down, never happened, he said.

“I’m saying what they used as their legal justification was completely false,” Latham said.

Police Lt. Matt Stewart said that race has not been a factor in any of the actions taken with respect to the address. He said the arrests have all been violation-based. The arrests April 7 covered an array of charges from obstruction and assault on an officer to possession of alcohol as a minor, and possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

Stewart said that a large group of people left the building at 2:26 a.m. that night and reported to officers outside that there was a fight in progress, and they were leaving because they had been pushed into a wall by the combatants.

Police stationed themselves at both the front and rear of the building in an effort to observe what was taking place inside as people left, Stewart said. Another large group exiting at 2:55 a.m. told officers that a toilet was overflowing onto the dance floor. When more people emerged a couple of minutes later and reported another fight in progress, police entered the building, Stewart said.

He said officers were forced to break up a fight in the middle of the dance floor, where Jeremy Latham was standing with a microphone, “yelling” and “causing panic and chaos,” according to a police report.

Stewart said police had been told in previous weeks that people were bringing their own alcohol to the events. But information also began surfacing that the place was being run like an unlicensed club, with a cover charge applied at the door and alcohol sold inside, he said.

Officers had spoken with Jeremy Latham and explained that he could not operate in that manner without a license, Stewart said. Latham insists that no cover charge was being collected and that he told people to bring their own alcohol if they wished to drink.

“To my knowledge, there was no beer or liquor being sold,” Latham told the Globe.

He acknowledged that he could not vouch for everyone who showed up at the event with respect to alcohol sales. But he and his friends were not making any sales, he said.

The Missouri Southern State University graduate, who has lived in Joplin since he was 16, bristled at police and media references to the location as an unlicensed club. He said there was no club. The building is a garage.

“It’s a space where me, my friends and my family can hang out,” he said.

A police spokesman referred to the location as The Surge in reports to local media following the “near riot” two weeks ago. Latham said The Surge was a club for teens that operated there a few years ago, and he had nothing to do with its operations. Hindbaugh confirmed that the Lathams did not begin leasing the building until October of last year.

Jeremy Latham said he started serving as a disc jockey for events there in an effort to offer a venue that the local arts and entertainment scene lacked. The people who showed up were asked to donate something if they liked the music he was spinning, he said.

“I don’t have to charge anybody; it’s a donation event,” he told the Globe.

The city prosecutor, fire marshal and a police officer met with Hindbaugh and David Latham last week, and an inspection of the building was conducted on April 12. Stewart said it was determined that the building had no sprinkler system and did not meet the city’s fire code for operation as a club.

Hindbaugh said the building has a maximum occupancy rating of 80 people. A building with that small of an occupancy rating does not require a sprinkler system, he said. The inspection noted other deficiencies — too few fire extinguishers, improper ceiling material — for operation as a club, he said.

Stewart said city officials were led to believe after the inspection that there would be no more events there. Officers who went to the address about 1:45 a.m. Sunday learned otherwise, he said. There appeared to be “a sizable crowd” of about 100 people gathered inside. Officers knocked on the door, but no one answered, he said.

After learning that alcohol sales were once again allegedly taking place inside, a search warrant was obtained, Stewart said. Police forced entry to the building and arrested four people, including the Latham brothers, and ushered the others out, he said.

Court date

Jeremy Latham and several other defendants arrested on misdemeanor offenses April 7 in the 1200 block of Wall Avenue are scheduled to have hearings Monday in Joplin Municipal Court.