Suzanne Coe, president of the Kearny Mesa strip joint known as Cheetahs, claims the San Diego Police Department's vice unit revoked the club's entertainment permit in retaliation against her and her club after her manager and more than a dozen dancers went to the media last March with complaints that officers conducted an illegal raid and forced them to pose for photos against their wishes.
The club has been allowed to remain open until a judge hears the case.
On March 6, 2014, ten police officers entered the club and ordered the dancers to private dressing rooms. Once there, the women were forced to get in line and pose for photos.
In the days that followed, some of the women and the club's manager, Rich Buonantony, gave to the media firsthand accounts of the raid and the impromptu and invasive photo session. In interviews, they said the officers crossed the line of enforcement and violated their constitutional rights. They repeated those allegations in a claim they filed with the city two weeks later, which was later denied. On April 7 of last year, the club's management filed a lawsuit against the city in federal court.
The police department, according to the March 23, 2015, lawsuit, punished the dancers and establishment for airing their grievances to the media.
Two days after the federal lawsuit was filed, officers from the vice unit notified Cheetahs that they had violated San Diego's Municipal Code governing nude entertainment clubs. And then came more visits from undercover officers.
"On April 24, 2014, the day after the meeting, and on May 2, 2014, and May 20, 2014, San Diego police officers conducted undercover operations at Cheetahs," reads the lawsuit. "During these operations, undercover officers would pay the entertainers for 'lap dances.' The undercover officers then filed internal reports alleging the entertainers had violated regulatory provisions of the San Diego Municipal Code."
In June, the police department notified Cheetahs that it was seeking to revoke their permit due to 12 alleged violations, including illegal touching during lap dances and dancers violating the six-feet rule.
According to the lawsuit, police department staff had been told that the force was trying to close Cheetahs for good.
"In July of 2014, unknown employees of the SDPD, who worked at the Vice Unit permit desk processing entertainer permit applications and taking photographs of the applicants, told one permit applicant that the applicant should not work at Cheetahs because they were 'trying to shut them down.'"
The harassment continued for several months, with officers showing up at the strip club asking for business documents and other items as part of their investigation.
On December 22, a hearing officer sided with the police and ordered to revoke their permit.
The city must now defend allegations that the vice unit conducted an illegal raid and improperly detained the workers at Cheetahs in federal court while defending their decision to revoke the club's permits in Superior Court.
(corrected 3/29, 11:50 a.m.)