New Orleans police and state officials suspended the alcohol permits of four French Quarter strip clubs after raids Friday found “multiple violations,” officials said Saturday.
But at least one waitress and an advocacy organization for those working at the clubs said the operation was a waste of resources that put employees in jeopardy and forced them to undress in front of male officers.
Neither the New Orleans Police Department nor the state’s Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control would provide details on the operation or the specific alleged violations Saturday, saying they were part of an ongoing investigation and that more information would be provided in coming days.
ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard said the operation turned up violations of the state’s liquor laws and some criminal violations.
“The investigations are still ongoing,” Marine-Lombard said. “There will be a hearing in a week and a half, and prior to the hearing, we’ll be releasing a list of all the violations.”
Officials suspended the permits of Dixie Divas on Iberville Street and Temptations, Scores and Rick's Sports Bar on Bourbon Street, according to the NOPD.
The raids were condemned Saturday by Michelle Rutherford, a civil rights lawyer working with the Bourbon Association of Responsible Entertainers, a group formed to support employees at French Quarter strip clubs.
“It's unfortunate that sensationalized claims of sex trafficking in the clubs have turned NOPD and the ATC into political pawns,” Rutherford said in an email. “As with prior raids, not a single trafficking victim was uncovered. This is not a good use of precious law enforcement resources. NOPD should be allowed to focus on real threats to public safety."
A waitress at Rick's who asked to remain anonymous said in a statement provided by Rutherford that during the raid, officers potentially put employees at risk by reading out their full names in front of customers as the workers provided their identification.
Also, the group of officers involved in the operation included only one woman, meaning male officers stood guard in the dressing room as the women changed, despite loud protests from the women, the waitress said.
Drug-sniffing dogs were brought along during the operation, and officers made several derogatory references suggesting all the dancers were drug users, the waitress said. She said two women were arrested at the club, one for having an outstanding warrant and another on an allegation of disturbing the peace.
The investigation is the largest of its type in New Orleans since Operation: Trick or Treat, which shut down a half-dozen clubs accused of allowing drug sales and prostitution in 2015. Some of those clubs reopened after signing agreements with the ATC requiring them to install surveillance cameras, hire outside security firms and make other changes.
Dixie Divas and Scores were among the clubs shut down in 2015.
That operation came after Covenant House leader Jim Kelly began pushing for new restrictions that would outlaw teenage dancers at the clubs in the wake of the death of 19-year-old Jasilas Wright, who worked at a Bourbon Street club and was allegedly killed by her pimp.
The City Council then enacted a temporary ban on new strip clubs as it began considering whether to cap the number of clubs allowed in the French Quarter.
Both the council and the Legislature passed laws to try to stop the clubs from hiring dancers younger than 21, but a federal judge blocked enforcement of the state law until the courts ruled on a challenge to the statute brought by a group of dancers.