An amended complaint in the Spring Break lawsuit accuses Sheriff Frank McKeithen, Bay County commissioners, Panama City Beach council members and Fox News of racism.
The court filing cites their handling of the issue in the lead up to harsher ordinances governing the annual event.
The complaint, filed by attorney Luke Lirot on behalf of Spinnaker, Club LaVela, Harpoon Harry's and other pro-Spring Break plaintiffs, states that the city's new ordinances are unconstitutional and based on racism, and exaggerated claims of criminal behavior. The rules limit where and when alcohol can be consumed and require permission from the city in order to hold special events.
The complaint claims that McKeithen and others used coded language, like "100 milers, thugs and animals" in reference to African American students who were coming to Spring Break in greater numbers. It adds that "good kids" and "Northern kids" were code for white students.
County leaders also took steps to prevent "hip-hop shows" on the mistaken believe that they attract African Americans, Lirot wrote.
On one occasion McKeithen and Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman visited Patrick Pfeffer at Club LaVela "on the eve of a heavily promoted all ages event" featuring the "Ying Yang twins" and accused the club of bringing big city "urban entertainment to the area," Lirot wrote.
The duo threatened Pfeffer with arrest and he was forced to deny access to teens under 18 even though the show had been heavily promoted as all ages, the complaint states.
The complaint goes on to state that McKeithen exaggerated certain criminal cases connected to Spring Break. In particular a "gang rape" allegation was made and "this falsity was transmitted worldwide, damaging the image of Spinnaker as a venue, Spring Break as an event and Panama City Beach as a destination."
Lirot added that the sheriff's office did this with the "intent to inflict great reputational harm"
Lirot said the city also creates harm in its special events ordinance that requires the performers to be identified and orders a description of the entertainment be offered before a permit will be granted. City officials are then making "content-based evaluations" of the permit and allowing some groups to perform without issue and forcing others to take on extra security including local law enforcement officers.
"Plaintiffs have reason to fear, and do fear, that these law enforcement agencies will again refuse to permit paid-duty officers to work at Plaintiffs' venues, thereby making this condition ... impossible to fulfill," Lirot wrote.
McKeithen responded to an earlier version of this complaint in October.
"Just when you think you’ve seen it all, it’s pretty obvious that money trumps morals and public safety. It’s disturbing these businesses would attempt to extort Panama City Beach by using inflammatory racial bias claims in an effort to distort the truth and mislead the court merely for personal greed," he wrote.
The city denies these allegations and is fighting the case in court. An injunction hearing on some of the issues raised in this complaint is expected to happen later this month.
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