MINNEAPOLIS - The owner of a Lyndale neighborhood bar and restaurant is suing the city of Minneapolis, alleging that police and licensing officials are trying to shut him down.
Champions Saloon & Eatery ("Champions") and its owner Rick Nelson filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court Thursday accusing the city of Minneapolis and certain police and licensing officials are abusing their authority and threatening to shut Champions down.
The lawsuit says Champions previously enjoyed a very good working relationship with the Commander of the Fifth Police Precinct and the officers under his command. The owner maintains that things changed when a new police inspector was appointed in 2011.
Nelson says when he complained to his City Council representative about crime and drug dealing occurring at the bus stop at the corner of Lake and Blaisdell, the inspector launched a drug sting, arrested 14 people on drug charges, and attempted to blame Champions for drawing a criminal element in a press release and media interviews.
The owner says these events and their high media profile damaged Champions' reputation. Of the 14 people arrested, only 2 were convicted in court, and none had any connection to Champions.
"Although we have been cooperating with the police for decades, they made Champions out to be the bad guy," Nelson said. "Champions has ZERO tolerance for drug activity on its premises. We employ a top-notch security staff and have 14 cameras monitoring the restaurant and bar. We report all suspicious activity to the police, but when we do, they turn around and use records of those 911 calls against us."
Champions attorney Ed Matthews says city licensing officials attempted to use the arrests as grounds for attempting to revoke Champions' liquor license.
"For example, the city cited Champions this past summer for violating the '60/40 Rule' (Minneapolis City Ordinance 362.395), which requires certain restaurants to derive at least 60% of their revenue from the sale of food and non-alcoholic beverages," says Matthews. "The 60/40 Rule, however, does not apply to Champions because, among other reasons, it obtained its liquor license years before the ordinance went into effect."
Champions' 34-page legal complaint details claims for retaliation, defamation, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, violation of due process and equal protection rights, conspiracy, and violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
"I've worked hard all my life, employ over 30 people, and play by the rules," Nelson said. "I don't know why they've targeted me like this."
Champions tried for months to work things out with city officials but insists the conditions licensing officials demanded would have forced Champions to close.
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