The owners of the former Levelz Bar & Grill, a club that was closed in early 2015, are suing Myrtle Beach, Horry County and their former landlord, saying all three ruined their business.
Henry and Virginia Brewington, owners of the club that once occupied 515 Ninth Ave. N., said in a Feb. 2 complaint that continued police presence in and around the club was harassment. They said government officials specifically told their landlord, Melvina Divine Davis, they were a public nuisance to interfere in their agreement. Davis, named in the suit, terminated their lease four years early as a result.
They also allege all three defendants interfered as they tried to sell the club, also known as Club Levelz. The Brewingtons’ complaint describes a string of events that began before a man was killed outside the club in a February 2015 “murder-for-hire.”
“[I]t is a policy of Defendant City and Defendant County to ‘close bars’ based on any misconduct that is associated therein, even if it is not occurring on the premises,” the Brewingtons’ complaint said. The couple claim the defendants deprived them of their property rights, equal protection under the law and profits they would have received had the lease remained intact.
Thomas Brittain, the plaintiffs’ attorney, is not in his office this week, an assistant told The Sun News. Henry Brewington could not be reached by phone.
The complaint alleges that Levelz’ landlord, Davis, was told the business had been deemed a public nuisance when that was not true. Two days before the shooting, she gave her tenants a notice to vacate.
Davis could not be reached by phone Monday, but her sister, Paula Alitzer, also an owner of the property Levelz used to occupy but not named in the suit, spoke to The Sun News.
Alitzer confirmed that the Horry County Solicitor’s office sent the property owners paperwork saying Levelz could be closed.
“It wasn’t something we did,” she said.
The lawsuit also said the city harassed the Brewingtons via the Myrtle Beach police.
Officers frequently came to the club without being called in to “keep checks.” On a few occasions, they found patrons with marijuana. In October 2014, Myrtle Beach “was notified” Henry Brewington was illegally selling fireworks — he said he was serving a drink with sparklers in it — and received a suspended fine.
And on Jan. 25, 2015, after finding a man in a car near the club had marijuana, “there was a heavy police presence from Defendant City at Plaintiff Business conducting multiple walkthroughs with as many as ten (10) officers in the building at a time,” according to the complaint.
As a result, Myrtle Beach police found one man in the restroom with marijuana, two women fighting outside the club and an intoxicated man on the street nearby. They entered the club several other times that night and did not find violations, the suit claims.
Mark Kruea, a spokesman for Myrtle Beach, said the city does not comment on pending litigation. He also declined to answer when asked if the city uses heavy police presence to create public nuisance cases against businesses.
Mayor John Rhodes could not be reached on his cellphone Monday.
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said he could not comment on specific details of the suit, which alleges the county, in conjunction with the city, “began a campaign to shut down certain businesses they deemed undesirable to the area.”
“I’m sure that our police, you know, talk back and forth because if issues that happen in the city sometimes come over into the county, too,” Lazarus said. “But as far as working together to shut down certain businesses or anything like that, I couldn’t comment on that.”
But Horry County did recently pass new requirements for bars after similar rules were enacted in Myrtle Beach. New bar owners must undergo a rigorous background check and pay annual fees if they want to stay open between midnight and 6 a.m. New and current owners must also submit safety plans outlining how they propose to curb criminal activity.
The Brewingtons’ suit comes just after Myrtle Beach closed two other bars in the same neighborhood, which is slated for redevelopment. The Sun News reported that the city was interested in buying properties in that downtown neighborhood, known as the superblock. Alitzer has said her building is being sold.
Then, on Jan. 24, Myrtle Beach announced its intention to buy much of that block, tear it down and replace it with a library and children’s museum. The city had been looking at the superblock for redevelopment for “three or four years,” Rhodes said then.
On the same day, bar owner Natalie Litsey was told she could not continue operating her bar there. City officials said that Natalia’s Bar and Grill was the site of several incidents with drugs and that proper safety procedures were not in place during shootings.
Litsey has told The Sun News that heavy police presence during keep checks, the same kind of unrequested police visits that Levelz received, occurred at her bar. She said Myrtle Beach should have warned her not to invest in a business on the superblock if they had alternative plans for the area.
But before she opened her bar on Nance Plaza, Litsey had backed off an investment on a different side of the superblock. According to the Brewingtons’ lawsuit, Litsey had arranged in January 2015 to buy Levelz for $150,000 and to take their place on the lease with Davis.
Litsey confirmed Monday that she had planned to buy it, but said conversations with Myrtle Beach police made her uneasy about the decision. The complaint similarly claims Myrtle Beach officials asked her what kind of business she planned to open and told her Levelz “had been a problem location.”
But Litsey said the shooting in February was the final straw. After that, she dropped out of the agreement to buy Levelz.
The Sun News staff writer Audrey Hudson contributed to this report