YORK — The co-owner of a now-closed Rock Hill nightclub who authorities said hired unlicensed security guards to work inside the club wont be tried after a York County magistrate ruled that police did not have enough probable cause for her arrest.
In a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Judge Mandrile Young also said there was no probable cause to charge Wilbert Bennett, 47, one of the six security guards arrested three months ago during a joint police and State Law Enforcement Division compliance check.
Late on May 3, 11 Rock Hill police officers and a SLED agent went to the Infiniti nightclub on East Main Street and identified six men wearing shirts with the word Security written on them, according to court documents.
The men told police they were employed by the club, but they could not provide credentials showing that they were state-certified, according to documents.
State law requires that security guards hired to work at a private investigative business, private security business or contract security business receive a license from SLED. Those owners must also be licensed by SLED to hire security personnel.
Earlier this year, police learned that six of the clubs 12 security officers did not have licenses and began working with the owners to get the guards in compliance, court documents state.
During the May compliance check, authorities told club co-owner Michelle Judge, 44, that she was responsible for ensuring that guards were registered, documents state. While searching an office, police said the clubs other co-owner, Maurice Obley, 37, claimed that he paid the security guards under the table, did not have records showing payment to the guards and never filed tax documents on his employees.
Authorities charged Obley and Judge with violation of contract security business license and the six guards with violation of security officer registration certificate.
But on Tuesday, a prosecutor and two defense attorneys debated the criteria of the law during a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was probable cause to continue with prosecution.
Rock Hill lawyer Leland Greeley, Judges appointed counsel, argued that the Infiniti club did not meet the definition of a contract security company or investigative agency. He conceded that the club is a private business, but he cited what he called an exclusion in the law that exempts licensing if the employee receives compensation as an independent contractor.
That exception requires the employee to be a nonuniformed, unarmed guard without the power to make an arrest. None of the security guards Judge hired was armed, Greeley said, and the guards could not make arrests.
The guards, Greeley said, did not meet the definition of uniformed officers. Most security guards, he said, wear authoritative uniforms, not shirts with the word security on them.
No crime was being committed, he said.
Ryan Newkirk, assistant York County solicitor, said the law is convoluted but argued that the guards wore some type of uniform and therefore should have registered.
A T-shirt with security on it stretches the definition of uniformed security guards, who you might see in a hospital, Greeley countered.
Bennetts attorney, York County Public Defender Creighton Hayes, agreed.
He said Bennett wore a black T-shirt without the words security emblazoned on the front. A police detective testified that officers did not photograph the back of Bennetts shirt.
Hayes showed the judge photographs police took at the scene, none of which show Bennett wearing a T-shirt with security written on it. He claimed that the police report was inaccurate and that authorities did not collect statements indicating that Bennett ever worked security at the club.
Bennett did not identify himself as a security guard, Hayes said.
Targeted for nonsense
We got a bad rap from the beginning, Judge said after the hearing. There were disturbances and fights and people shooting on the outside, but it was limited.
Judge said she feels police might have targeted the club because it drew large crowds. Judge and Obley opened the club to give people a place to socialize and instructed security guards to call police if there were a problem.
I thought that was what youre supposed to do, she said. Instead, it seemed like strikes against us.
We were just crucified every week, she said. I am sorry for the stuff that did happen, and I do acknowledge that. For some of the stuff, it just seemed that we were being targeted every week for nonsense.
Authorities documented 55 calls from citizens 11 of which were assaults to police after the club opened in January 2012, not including 66 officer-initiated calls police made while responding to complaints about drug activity or shootings, police records show.
Police did not target the club but responded to several incidents because club staff did not follow guidelines police set when the club opened, said Executive Officer Mark Bollinger of the Rock Hill Police Department.
Police meet with owners of newly opened clubs to ensure they understand state and city guidelines for operation. Incidents at Infiniti accumulated on a case-by-case basis, he said.
The club closed last month after the state did not renew its liquor license, Judge said. Charges against Obley and the five other guards are pending.
Im just glad its over, Judge said. Opening a club is something that I will never do again.
Jonathan McFadden • 803-329-4082