Troy Hebert, commissioner of the state Alcohol & Tobacco Control agency, presided over a three-plus hour hearing Monday morning in the City-Parish Council auditorium at City Hall concerning downtown nightclub Karma, the subject of numerous complaints and much attention from law enforcement over the last few years. The club was the center point of a shooting investigation this past July.
Lafayette Consolidated Government revoked the mega club’s liquor permit in 2010, and while the revocation was upheld by the City-Parish Council, the club obtained an injunction from a federal judge at the same time it, along with a handful of other downtown clubs, filed a federal lawsuit against LCG challenging local government’s levying of a fee against downtown bars to help defray the cost of paying police overtime for security details downtown on weekends. The council suspended the bar levy in response to the lawsuit, and Karma has managed to stay in business with its liquor license in limbo.
Several police officers and Chief Jim Craft testified against the club. LCG’s Tim Melancon, manager of Alcohol and Noise Control, also testified against Karma.
While Hebert characterized Monday’s hearing as “more of an open forum” and a “fact-finding mission,” the mood in the hearing was clearly one of divorcing Karma from its permit to sell booze, which would effectively put the club out of business.
“Any clubs that are a hip hop venue we generally have more problems with than other clubs that don’t have that type of venue,” Craft said. “Some of the problems we’ve had are fights, batteries, we had a shooting, we had some stabbings ... They’ve openly smoked marijuana in there.”
Downtown business owners and residents also spoke against the club, arguing it has negatively impacted their business since the club moved to a hip hop format around 2010. One resident said she doesn’t feel safe walking near the club late on weekend nights.
ATC is conducting an independent investigation into allegations against Karma. Hebert said it will be roughly 30 days before that probe is complete, at which time both sides in the dispute will be summoned to Baton Rouge for a hearing during which a prosecutor for the state and a defense attorney hired by Karma will present their cases. Hebert will serve as judge and could rule to temporarily suspend Karma’s liquor license and/or fine the club’s owners or revoke the permit entirely.