Dino’s Food Mart: Nuisance or discrimination victim?

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 11:45 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 6, 2021 at 12:50 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A bitter war of words and laws has erupted after Metro Louisville leaders tried to shut down two convenience stores on Broadway under the nuisance ordinance — a first of its kind punishment for businesses in the city.

On July 6, in the parking lot of Dino’s Food Mart at 26th and Broadway, people drank booze in the parking lot. What looked like drug deals were happening through car windows. In the middle of the parking lot, a woman pulled down her shorts and went to the bathroom. A police helicopter did laps overhead because a car crashed and killed a bystander not far down Broadway, and the driver fled.

July 6 wasn’t much different from most times WAVE 3 News anchor John Boel watched when the Dino’s lot was a party. The parking lot was filled with people who appeared to be under the influence, drinking and dancing. Wads of cash were out with hand-to-hand transactions. Despite a security guard’s presence, what appeared to be prostitutes would often spend up to an hour standing around the lot without being chased off.

“Is that any different than any other stores, Thorntons, Bader’s, the bar across the street?” Dino’s attorney Nader George Shunnarah asked. “These are social problems the community has.”

Shunnarah has successfully defended both convenience stores that Louisville Metro has tried to close under the nuisance ordinance, and he didn’t mince words when he talked about what he thinks is going on.

“It’s really easy to say, ‘Dino’s needs to be shut down’ because there’s crime in the community and some of these people come on to the lot and they commit crimes,” Shunnarah said. “But if you take that approach then you’re going to have to shut down Metro Louisville too because Louisville is full of crime. Shootings are up. Car jackings are up. Maybe we should tell metro government they should go out of business and someone else should run the government.”

“We do have police that will respond and take action,” Develop Louisville Director Robert Kirchdorfer said. “However, if things continue to happen, this is a nuisance ordinance and if you’re running a business that is attracting nuisance and continues to attract nuisances, I do believe the intent was to rid the nuisance.”

Shunnarah said a business owner’s responsibility is to call the police if crimes are being committed on the property, which is the same argument he made two years ago when Louisville tried to shut down the convenience store at Broadway and Hancock after police said they’d made hundreds of runs to the property. When WAVE 3 News watched, people were recorded spending long periods of time there who appeared to be trying to sell drugs, sorting drugs in plastic bags, and using drugs in the lot.

That case is still pending, and Dino’s prevailed in an appeal because the city went after the landlord, not the tenant, and the court determined the tenant was an “indispensable party.”

“They can’t just serve the landlord,” Shunnarah said. “They have to serve notice on the tenant and the tenant has constitutional rights. You can’t just shut them down.”

Now, Dino’s management is on on the offensive by filing a lawsuit against Metro Council President David James, Councilwoman Donna Purvis, and her legislative assistant Denise Bentley, for comments made in a hearing accusing Dino’s of allowing criminal activity on the premises, calling it “a vampire sucking the life out of west Louisville” and selling crack kits.

That last allegation followed an undercover WAVE 3 News investigation where Dino’s was among several convenience stores that sold crack cocaine smoking kits: a glass pipe, lighter, and a chore boy scrubber, which is used as a filter, all packaged together.

Shunnarah said he believes James, Purvis and Bentley are among those targeting Middle Eastern-owned businesses in Louisville.

“I think they are,” Shunnarah said. “No question they are.”

The lawsuit alleges “discrimination against Plaintiff’s race and ethnic background. Out of all the businesses in Jefferson County, defendants have selected two middle eastern stores to claim they are a public nuisance.”

Kirchdorfer said it’s about data, not demographics.

“If it’s tracked and you can’t control it, and hate to say, in some cases, people can be hurt, and for the good of the city, business may need to shut down for a while and try to change the behavior of the area there,” Kirchdorfer said.

“You can’t take a criminal act by a third person and say OK that third person came on Dino’s lot and now Dino’s is responsible for a public nuisance,” Shunnarah said. “The statute actually prohibits that.”

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