SEASIDE HEIGHTS – The owner of Karma nightclub has sued Seaside Heights in federal court, claiming police and borough officials unfairly targeted his business because he would not accede to their demands to stop hosting events that could attract African-American and gay patrons.
The borough’s’ mayor, council, municipal employees and police officers “has implemented and maintains an unconstitutional, discriminatory and racist policy, practice and/or custom of discouraging and limiting African-American and LGBTQ (Lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer/questioning) visitors to Seaside Heights,” according to the lawsuit filed in Trenton.
It was filed on behalf of John P. Saddy, a Toms River resident who has operated nightclubs and bars in the borough for more than 25 years.
The lawsuit claims Seaside officials conspired to punish Saddy after the nightclub owner objected to the borough’s “prohibition” on his playing hip hop and rap music in his nightclubs and the borough’s attempts to limit the number of African-American patrons.
“When they say ‘family friendly,’ they mean white, straight people,” Freehold lawyer Thomas J. Mallon, who is representing Saddy, said of the officials’ preferred clientele.
The lawsuit claims the town has “a history of abusing power and taking retaliatory actions against residents and/or citizens for exercising their constitutional rights.”
“Contrary to the Borough of Seaside Heights’ public claims that it is trying to promote a ‘family environment,’ the borough, through the individually named defendants, is actually trying to promote a ‘white’ and ‘straight’ environment,” the lawsuit states.
Borough Attorney Jean Cipriani rejected all of Saddy’s claims in a strongly worded statement.
She said the lawsuit is full of “outrageous, false and inflammatory allegations made by an individual who is looking for money and who is willing to make wild and unsupported smears about public servants in pursuit of that money.
“The Borough of Seaside Heights does not discriminate on the basis of race or sexual preference or identity. Period,” Cipriani wrote in a emailed statement.
She said that Saddy’s suit was filed in retaliation for the borough’s efforts to have Karma’s liquor and mercantile licenses revoked earlier this year.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Borough of Seaside Heights, Mayor Anthony Vaz and Borough Council members Richard Tompkins, Michael Carbone, Louis DiGiulio, Agnes Polhemus, Harry Smith and Victoria Graichen, Administrator Christopher Vaz (the mayor’s son), and Police Chief Thomas Boyd, police Sgt. Luigi Violante and unnamed borough employees and police officers.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money to compensate for income Saddy says he lost after the borough’s crackdown on Karma, as well as payments for “emotional distress” and payment of attorney fees.
Among the allegations contained in court documents:
- Saddy says that his nightclubs were frequently targeted by police and other borough officials, who threatened to disrupt his businesses if he tried to host hip hop or rap events or parties that would appeal to the LBGTQ community.
- He says he was issued “baseless” code enforcement summonses and that an “unjustified police raid” was made May 27 at Karma, when police, Ocean County Sheriff’s officers, firefighters and at first aid squad volunteers came to the club during the “Hyperglow” dance party.
- Borough officials said they went to Karma because they had received calls about overdoses and underage drinking. Saddy said he was at the club May 27 “and did not witness any overdoses on his property or injury to any person.”
- Seaside Heights pressured Saddy to limit the number of African Americans coming to his nightclubs. He said borough officials “made clear” that he was not to host hip hop or rap music shows, since those might attract African-American patrons.
- “High-ranking” borough officials, including Chief Boyd, were sent to Saddy’s nightclubs specifically to count the number of African-Americans present and report this information to the mayor and council.
- After the borough was devastated by superstorm Sandy in October 2012, Saddy spoke with Administrator Christopher Vaz about hosting hip hop, rap and LBGTQ events to boost his sagging revenue. Vaz replied that if Saddy hosted such events,”the police would be living” at his venues.
- In April, Saddy and an African-American promoter/rapper met with Administrator Vaz to again discuss the possibility of having hip hop and LBGTQ-friendly events at Karma and Bamboo. After Saddy suggested boosting tourism by bringing such events to his nightclubs, Vaz told Saddy that “‘blacks and fags’ did not conjure images of a family-oriented town.”
- In the early 2000s, Seaside Heights forced Saddy to a maintain a police presence outside his nightclubs, and to hire off-duty Seaside Heights officers to work there. He said he was forced to reimburse the borough for use of the off-duty officers “at a rate of pay significantly higher” than Seaside Heights usually paid its officers.
- In 1992, Saddy was ordered to support incumbent candidates in the Seaside Heights municipal election “under threat from the Borough Council that it would institute a selective 12 a.m. closing time for the Bamboo Bar — a death sentence for any nightclub.”
- Saddy was told not to host an event sponsored by Hennessy cognac because Chief Boyd said such an event “would attract too many African-Americans to Seaside Heights.” If he moved forward with the event, Saddy was told the Seaside police department would conduct a raid.
- Reached on Thursday, Chief Boyd said he could not comment on the lawsuit. He directed inquiries to the borough attorney’s office.
The borough went to state Superior Court in Toms River on May 22 in an attempt to have Karma closed for good.
Seaside Heights claimed Karma was being operated in violation of a site plan approval that calls for a full-service restaurant to be open on the property.
Site plan approvals from 2008 require Karma’s owners to have a full-service restaurant, to be operated on the club’s first level, by “an independent restaurateur.”
The owners of Savor, the restaurant that previously operated in the first-floor space, announced in April that they would not be reopening this year. Saddy said he was operating a restaurant on the premises, Chillz, until a new restaurateur could take its place.
According to the lawsuit, on May 25, Zoning Officer Kenneth Roberts and building inspector Charles Lasky came to the nightclub and issued Saddy summonses for “change of use” and “erecting a temporary stage.” Lasky said Administrator Vaz had ordered him to issue the summonses. [Read More…]