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Attorneys want alleged brawl at Columbia's Group Therapy considered in court case

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Group Therapy

Lawyers for neighbors who live near Five Points are asking a court to reopen a recent case against iconic Greene Street bar Group Therapy, in hopes a judge will consider evidence regarding an alleged recent brawl at the bar as she makes her decision about the establishment’s license to sell alcohol.

Attorney Chris Kenney, from firebrand state Sen. Dick Harpootlian’s law firm, made the filing in state administrative law court on Friday. During a two-day hearing in February in front of Judge Shirley Robinson, Kenney argued, among other things, that Group Therapy should be denied renewal of its alcohol licenses because the business was a public safety risk.

At the time, the attorney cited a steady law enforcement presence at the bar, as Columbia Police Department officers responded there 38 times for various incidents during a one-year period.

Now Harpootlian’s firm is hoping Robinson will consider new evidence before making a ruling. They hope she’ll take into account a brawl that allegedly happened at Group Therapy on Feb. 29, an incident in which South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agents say there were reports of gunfire outside the bar.

The original two-day hearing ended on Feb. 12, and Robinson indicated at the time that she could possibly rule within 30 days.

The Friday filing implores the judge to consider a Feb. 29 incident at the bar.

"On the early morning of Saturday, February 29, 2020, agents with the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) responded to a fight inside Group Therapy," the motion reads. "While those agents were attempting to restore peace inside the location, gunfire erupted outside the location, causing SLED to abandon the fight and respond to the shots fired."

The new filing includes affidavits from SLED agents Kirkland Jordan and James Tallon. 

In her affidavit, Jordan says that she was on an alcohol enforcement assignment in Five Points at 1:44 a.m. on Feb. 29 when she was informed there was a fight near Group Therapy. She said she went toward the bar and saw people fighting in the middle of Greene Street, where Group Therapy is located. She said an employee of Group Therapy was attempting to break up the fight. 

Jordan's affidavit says several people pushed their way inside the establishment, and she and other SLED agents went inside and helped break up the skirmish. Shortly thereafter, someone allegedly shouted that there was shooting outside, and officers were directed to the nearby corner of Greene Street and Pavilion Avenue. A witness reportedly said someone in a black Nissan was responsible for the shooting, and had driven away.

"No arrests were made because, by the time agents returned to Group Therapy, the individuals responsible for fighting had left the scene," Jordan's affidavit says.

The SLED agent also notes in her affidavit that a Group Therapy manager told her the fight started inside the bar, and that the people involved were kicked out and proceeded to fight in the street.

Free Times has reached out to attorney Bakari Sellers, who is representing Group Therapy, which is owned by former USC football great Steve Taneyhill. Kenney, the attorney from Harpootlian's firm, declined comment when reached by Free Times

Robinson could choose to reconvene a hearing on the matter to allow for testimony about the reported Feb. 29 incident.

Group Therapy has operated on Greene Street in Five Points since 1978, and has been a hangout for University of South Carolina students and alums for generations. The bar — which inspired the name of Hootie & the Blowfish’s national tour in 2019 — has, since 2016, been owned by Taneyhill.

In February, several factions — law enforcement, the university, Harpootlian’s law firm, the state Department of Revenue and a number of residents from neighborhoods near Five Points — came together to protest Group Therapy’s licenses and permits to sell alcohol.

During the February hearing, public and student safety were the centerpiece of the case for those opposing Group Therapy. USC Dean of Students Marc Shook testified, and offered that Group Therapy is contributing to an alcohol-fueled party culture in Five Points, one that often caters to a crowd under the age of 21.

“They are drinking in Five Points because there are a number of bad actors who are willing to take profit for minuscule ID procedures, [with] abundant drink specials,” Shook said on Feb. 12. “Our students know they can get in with crappy IDs and take a $10 bill down [to Five Points] and get substantive amounts of alcohol.”

Sellers countered at the time that it was hypocritical for USC to cry out against alcohol sales at Group Therapy, while at the same time now choosing to sell beer and wine at its sporting events.

“So, now at the University of South Carolina, you actually sell beer in the arena for people to drink and chug, and then let them out onto the street [afterwards],” Sellers said, on Feb. 12.

The attorney went on to say that the university “wants to make a million dollars a year” on alcohol at ballgames, calling it a “profit motive” for the school.

Paperwork filed before the February hearing showed that, among the 38 responses from Columbia Police to Group Therapy from July 2018 to June 2019 were incidents ranging from underage drinking to patrons with fake IDs to fights outside the bar and beyond.

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