Lounge owner says he can’t control what people do once they walk outside, fears for business

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COVER PHOTO_Sunnight Lounge club owner talks after shooting_0610_1560206524444.JPG.jpg

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Sunday Tel, the owner of the Sunnight Lounge, fears a shooting at his club Sunday morning, that killed 21-year-old Zacharia Nahimana, will close his doors for good.

“If my business is a dangerous business in the community, I don’t mind to close it. but it’s not going to stop people from dying out here every day. there’s a lot of guns out here, illegal, whatever,” he said.

     MORE | Knoxville police identify victim killed in shooting near Sunnight Lounge

While he said the victim came inside his lounge, he said he can’t change what people decide to do when they leave.

“As a business person, I’m doing everything I need to do. Once they leave my sight, I can’t control what they want to do,” he said. 

In March 2017, Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword ordered a temporary injunction against the lounge, following a petition for abatement of nuisance filed by the District Attorney’s Office. 

The petition outlines the lounge as a business “where alcohol violations, criminal activity, and extremely violent behaviors are rampant.” In the petition, it noted investigators found gang activity and an “atmosphere for illegal activity that puts the direct neighbors of the business as well as the community in general in danger”. 

It noted 10 calls about criminal activity in just over one year and two shootings in just shy of four months.

It also found one man on the lounge’s security team had ties to a gang and was also suspected to sell drugs.

The end of the petition reads: “In short, Sunnight Lounge is a business that thrives on allowing and encouraging gang activity, alcohol violations, and violent activity to take place, both inside and spilling over to the parking lot.”

In October 2017, Judge Sword signed off an agreement that allowed the business to be open but prohibited any nuisance activity on the property.

The agreement came with ten guidelines to follow, including closing the business by 3 a.m., abide by state and local rules on alcohol sales, implement a reasonable cover charge to cut back on loitering and visiting people, hire sworn law enforcement officers with Knoxville Police or KCSO while the business is open. It even states they aren’t allowed to be open without the officers being present. 

Tel said he has made strides to make his business safer, and suggested there haven’t been any major issues in more than a year.

He said he can’t prevent anything from happening outside. Tel said the lounge is closed this weekend out of respect for the family. 

He said he’s met the demands in the agreement, aside from hiring an off-duty officer while the lounge is open. He showed us an email that acknowledges he did ask for an officer. The email stated he would receive a follow-up email with an officer’s contact information. He said he never heard back.

But, he said requesting assistance for last weekend is the first time he’s tried, because of financial reasons. 

Police are still searching for the shooter. 

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