“In terms of crime, it’s only gotten worse over the last several decades, but these people have made a commitment to the community,” said Loyd Neal, the attorney representing the store’s owner.
In March, the 8900 South Braeswood store and property owners were faced with a joint harassment lawsuit by the city.
The lawsuit there said there were repeated counts of supply and possession of narcotics, robbery, aggravated robbery, aggravated assault, unlawful carrying of a weapon and murder on the property.
“They are being sued for allegedly knowingly tolerating crimes on this property,” Neal said.
When Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Police Commissioner Troy Finner announced the One Safe Houston initiative in February 2022, they vowed to sue companies identified as crime hotspots.
Neal and his client disagree that crime in the area is high. In a display filed in the case, they list the 720 incidents that occurred within 1,000 feet of the grocery store from January 1, 2020 to June 22, 2022. Employees have shot their cars and there are bullet holes in the side of the building.
“I would argue that you can’t go into town and say that the supermarket employees can stop a bullet or should be held responsible for someone driving by, committing crimes and shooting people,” Neal said.
The strip center is surrounded by apartment complexes and a homeless camp.
According to the store’s attorney, they installed surveillance cameras, intruder screens, high-intensity lighting and signage to deter loitering and unauthorized entry into affidavits.
“You don’t want that element to be there,” Neal said. “They want the city to come in and provide the police protection that they pay the taxes for and protect them.”
The shop owner has realized that calling the police will hurt his business. With each call for help to the police, they believe it is another sign against them in the eyes of the city that ultimately led to this lawsuit.
“You mean wait a minute,” Neal said. “We call the police and report the criminals, and then you use that statistic to presume our guilt under the law for not stopping the crime?”
In their eyes, it has become a self-fulfilling problem.
City Attorney Arturo Michel said they rely in many ways on complaints against which they are filing the Chapter 125 lawsuits.
“We rely on information from HPD and we rely on the case law examining at what level of authority and whether the owners have taken action to remedy the situation,” Michel said. “It depends on the case. It is not an exact objective determination. There’s a lot of subjectivity involved, but we have a whole section of the legal department dealing with it all the time.”
State law permits the attorney general’s office, district, county, city, or individual bringing charges against “any person who maintains a place where persons habitually congregate for the following purposes, and who knowingly tolerates the activity and about Attempts to disrupt activity remain a common nuisance.” The law further lists more than two dozen criminal offenses.
The city is seeking a temporary and permanent restraining order on the store and property to stop crime.
“One of the penalties is that the city can come in and shut off your utilities,” Neal explained. “The city can come and revoke your certificate of occupancy. Another penalty is that the city can force the landlord to come to you and cancel your lease. One of them says if you break the restraining order you can go to jail.”
Neal has challenged the constitutionality of the state law used in the lawsuit. He said it violates both the Texas and US Constitutions and is vague for a number of reasons.
“This is a very important legal issue right now,” Neal said. “What it has been using is being used to aggressively go after innocent taxpaying corporations and hold them accountable to stop crime, but what’s so unfair about it isn’t just that it puts them at risk of damaging their businesses, their property and theirs Losing equipment and having their property closed, but now innocent business owners are being told to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend themselves.”
He said the law isn’t designed to shut down taxpaying businesses that don’t stop criminals.
Based on what a judge decides on Neal’s complaint, there could be nationwide ramifications.
“Now if you close this grocery store, do you think you’ve stopped crime?” Neal asked. “No, you just brought it down the street. It didn’t do anything other than make the city look like they accomplished something by doing something or maybe pocketing someone $10,000 as a penalty.”
ABC13 reached out to the city to address Neal and his client’s concerns and whether they planned to pursue a lawsuit against high-crime apartment complexes in the city, but received no response.
The city also filed a harassment lawsuit against Spivey’s Uptown Nightclub.
“I think Spivey is in a lot of ways, it doesn’t look like TABC will give them their liquor license and it could all be folded into it,” Michel said.
A spokesman for TABC told ABC13 that their liquor license is currently expired and they are under active investigation. Based on the result, it may not be extended.
The city also said they filed a TABC protest at the Standard Bar on Washington Avenue. TABC confirmed they are also under investigation, which should be completed in the coming week. The result determines their ability to hold an alcohol permit.
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https://abc13.com/houston-crime-lucky-evening-food-store-caught-in-south-braeswood/12024958/ The city of Houston is suing the closure of the Lucky Evening Food Store for failing to address crime in its area