Rock Hill Infiniti club owner not facing trial for unlicensed security

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJuly 30, 2013 

— The co-owner of a now-closed Rock Hill nightclub who authorities said hired unlicensed security guards to work inside the club won’t 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 club’s 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 club’s 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.

‘Convoluted’ law

Rock Hill lawyer Leland Greeley, Judge’s 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.

Bennett’s 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 Bennett’s 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 you’re 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.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” Judge said. Opening a club is “something that I will never do again.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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