Simmons Fishing Camp has been notified by the Town of Hilton Head Island that the bar risks being declared a public nuisance. One of the establishment's owners says the business is doing all it can to help keep rowdiness and lawlessness under control, but that it can do only so much about people outside or just off its premises.
(Photo: Jay Karr / staff photo)
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner speaks about ways that the community and law enforcement can work together to minimize crime during a forum Wednesday at St. Helena Elementary School. Tanner says that in addition to using a "mob law" that will allow his office and the Solicitor's Office to subpoena reluctant or uncooperative witnesses of violent crime, he will pitch a county ordinance that would cost nusiance businesses their license.(Photo: Delayna Earley The Beaufort Gazette)
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Two years after shutting down a troublesome club under a new ordinance, another nightspot has piqued the concern of the Town of Hilton Head Island and the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
The owner of Simmons Fishing Camp at 11 Simmons Roads has been ordered to get his customers under control or risk being declared a public nusiance -- and that could result in Plamer Simmons losing his business license for the establishment near Broad Creek.
Deputies have been called to the club more than 200 times since January 2011 -- reports of shots fired, fighting and drug activity are among the reasons.
Neighbors regularly complain about noise from late-night parties and have collected shell casings outside the bar that they've turned over to deputies.
If not addressed, town and sheriff's officials worry violence at the club could become deadly, like a St. Helena Island nightclub where a June 21 shootout left two men dead and two injured.
"We're scared," said Janice Heuk, who lives next to the Simmons Fishing Camp. "We're afraid of stray bullets striking our homes. And the music is so loud we can't sleep most nights."
Other neighbors shared similar concerns Friday.
"We want to coexist, but we don't want to be fearful," said Tonya Hudson, who lives next to the Heucks on Gibson Road.
GUNFIRE, UNDERAGE DRINKING
Heuck; her husband, Ed; and neighbor Kathy Lancaster called the Sheriff's Office at about 5 a.m. July 17, 2011 complaining of gunfire and loud music.
It's illegal on the island to sell or drink alcohol between 3 and 6 a.m. at licensed businesses, which may remain open past that time as long as alcohol is not provided.
A deputy found a large gathering in the parking lot beginning to disperse. Several in the group said a person they didn't know shot a pistol into the air as the party ended.
No one was injured and there was no damage, according an incident report. None of the bar's patrons was willing to cooperate with deputies, the report states.
Later that day, Janice Heuck collected 20 shell casings from the bar's parking lot and turned them over to the Sheriff's Office, according to a report.
The casings were from 9 mm and .40-caliber handguns and a 12-gauge shotgun.
On Feb. 26, deputies were called to the club around midnight about an intoxicated man who arrived with a loaded shotgun.
The man was charged with disorderly conduct and taken to the Beaufort County Detention Center.
Members of the Sheriff's Office Alcoholic Beverage Control team were called to the club July 20 on a report of underage drinking related to a high school graduation party.
Deputies arrived to find "numerous" people with alcoholic beverages walking along Simmons Road, according to a report.
A 20-year-old Bluffton man was cited for underage possession. At the same time, a fight broke out at Simmons Fishing Camp, and other officers responded to break it up, according to the report.
The report doesn't say where the underage drinkers got the beer, but investigators believe they broughr it and kept it in their cars, Tanner said.
CLUB COULD STILL BE LABELED 'NUISANCE'
The bar has not been cited for violations of state alcoholic beverage laws or noise violations, according to the Sheriff's Office and town records.
It has, however, has been the subject of numerous noise complaints and 27 reports for criminal activity. If such incidents don't stop, it could be shut down, town staff attorney Brian Hulbert said.
Town Council revoked the business license for the now-defunct Club Prana in August 2010, under a 2009 ordinance that allows the town to close "nuisance" businesses. It was the first -- and thus far, only -- Hilton Head Island club to lose its license under that law.
Island businesses with three or more serious incidents over a six-month period or four or more during in a year could be declared nuisances. A serious incident is defined as assault, assault and battery, aggravated assault or other violations which could injure a person.
Hulbert said the town has not declared Simmons Fishing Camp a nuisance, but the club has been warned it could be shut down.
Tanner said excessive calls to the club has taxed his department, which has established extra patrols to monitor the area and deter crime.
"That takes officers away from other functions that are equally important," he said. "It's also costing overtime to ensure these places are safe."
OWNERS SAY THEY'RE COOPERATING
Attempts Thursday and Friday to reach Palmer Simmons were unsuccessful.
Greg Marcus Simmons, a partner in Simmons Fishing Camp along with Jermaine Robinson, told the Sheriff's Office the business has been complying with the town's letter, after deputies were called to the club for a noise complaint July 22.
Robinson said Thursday the business has toned down its music and hired extra security, noting the club also has security cameras installed on the front of the building to monitor the parking lot.
"We're trying to the best of our ability to get a hold on it," he said. "And we've never had a problem with anyone getting harmed here."
Of the 202 calls since 2011, 136 were initiated by patrolling officers, not by citizens' calls, Robinson said.
"People probably were fighting and they left and went down the road and let shots off in the air," Robinson said. "There's nothing we could really do about that."
Hilton Head proposal targets nuisance bars, March 15, 2009