Champions files lawsuit against city

LYNDALE — The city of Minneapolis has taken steps that could close down Champions at Lake & Blaisdell, and the owner is now suing the city. 

Champions’ complaint says the city defamed the business in a drug sting, and is trying to shut it down using unfair citations.

“Champions has zero tolerance for drug activity on its premises,” owner Rick Nelson said in a press release. “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.”

In response to the lawsuit, the city released its “notice of adverse license action” that was served to Nelson on Oct. 29, stating that “the continued operation of the establishment is not in the public’s interest.” City penalties can include license revocation or suspension, administrative fines, or new operating conditions. 

City police documented more than seven drug deals that occurred at the bar, the parking lot, or the patio between September 2011 and January 2012.

Police also documented incidents where Champions staff did not call 911 as required by their license, including a February robbery and assault of a female in the parking lot. Staff also did not call 911 following a shooting in the parking lot on Aug. 3, according to police. Police said at least 40 caliber rounds were fired, hitting vehicles and a second-story apartment window at 127 W. Lake St.

“When you look at the list of complaints of criminal activity at this establishment, it is clear that the City is right to take enforcement action,” City Attorney Susan Segal said in a statement. “There is a documented history of criminal and nuisance activity at this business.”

Champions’ complaint says the city’s highly-publicized drug sting in January 2012 was defamation, done in retaliation for Nelson’s complaints about drug dealing and gang members at a nearby bus stop. The sting netted 14 arrests on drug charges, according to the complaint, but resulted in only two convictions and caught people unconnected to Champions. Nelson said he only learned about the sting from his television in March, when police announced it to the media. 

Nelson’s complaint also highlights a city citation lasts summer requiring that 60 percent of Champions’ sales come from food and non-alcoholic beverages. The rule hadn’t been enforced before in Champions’ 30 years in business, according to the complaint, because the business opened before the rule went into effect.

“Nelson remains in fear that Champions’ liquor license will be revoked and he will lose his livelihood,” states the complaint. “Similarly, African American patrons of Champions are fearful that Champions will go out of business and they will lose a place of public accommodation that caters to their African American community.”