HUNTINGTON — The city of Huntington’s effort in seeking a judge’s order to keep a problematic bar location from reopening was delayed Thursday after the city’s attorney raised questions about the property being sold.
The building, located at 2005 10th Ave. in Huntington and formerly known as Gary’s Place, was shut down in January 2017 after being declared a public nuisance by the city due to a high level of violent crime associated with the business. The building was ultimately put up for sale, but never sold.
However, the building’s owner, Gary Stanley, leased the building to at least two other tenants who opened illegal bars. The leases led to a double homicide in 2020 on the first night the latest establishment opened, marking at least the third homicide at the location in the past 10 years.
Huntington responded last year by filing a second lawsuit to prevent it from reopening as any establishment that sold alcohol, but Stanley said the lawsuits were an attempt to illegally seize his property and make him the fall guy for owning property in a high-crime area.
At a hearing in Cabell Circuit Judge Christopher Chiles’ courtroom Thursday, Scott Damron, attorney for the city of Huntington, said the city had been unable to reach an agreement with Stanley and since the lawsuit was filed Stanley had transferred the title of the building to a friend, Albert Cremeans, for $125,000.
Damron believes the transfer was made fraudulently to get the city to drop its claims, and added that the new owner has a long “rap sheet.”
“(Stanley) just transferred it to take the heat off of himself and to defraud the court of what’s going on,” Damron said.
Damron asked that Cremeans be added to the lawsuit, but that Stanley also remain as a defendant until the city can determine if the transaction was legitimate. He said without the true owner of the property in court, they could not move forward with the injunction to close the bar.
Stanley’s attorney, Scott McClure, said Stanley never owned a bar at the property; it was always leased to someone else. He is just a property owner and has become the fall guy. He shook off any notion the sale was fraud.
“I guess the city wants to choose who he sells his property to now,” McClure said. “There’s a deed filed and a deed of trust also on file. To make an allegation of a fraudulent (action) to the court without any proof is problematic to me.”
Chiles said even if Stanley never owned a bar at the property, as the landlord he “possibly illegally” allowed a bar to operate on the property he owned. Nonetheless, McClure asked Stanley be removed from the case because he no longer owns the property and has no control over it.
In his ruling Thursday, Chiles sided with the city in adding Cremeans to the case and denying to remove Stanley just yet. The sides will return to the courtroom at a later date to determine the future of the property.
The lawsuit also named as defendants Christopher Thomas, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and CT’s Biker Club, a domestic nonprofit association that was recently doing business at the bar and whose president was listed as Thomas, but neither responded to the allegations or appeared in court.
BARBOURSVILLE — Trout-fishers have been seeking a golden prize from the waters of Lake William in Barboursville this week.
West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources has plans to stock dozens of bodies of water with special golden rainbow trout between now and April 3 for the annual “Gold Rush” trout-fishing promotion, where an estimated 50,000 golden rainbow trout will be distributed to 42 lakes and 20 streams, including Lake William.
One hundred of this year’s allotment of “goldens” will be marked with specially numbered tags. Anglers who catch tagged fish can register their catches on the Gold Rush website to win prizes from the state Division of Tourism.
The grand prize will be a three-night cabin stay at Blackwater Falls State Park. Other prizes include a one-night cabin stay at a West Virginia state park or forest; a $25 gift card to West Virginia state parks; or Gold Rush merchandise such as hats, stickers and patches.
BARBOURSVILLE — Crews are preparing to change the traffic pattern in the construction area on Interstate 64 near the Huntington Mall.
The current traffic pattern for westbound lanes between mile markers 18 and 19 will be changed beginning the night of March 31. Traffic will be shifted into the newly constructed lanes in the median of the roadway.
The $71.7 million, three-year project is expanding Interstate 64 between the Huntington Mall and Merritts Creek from four to up to eight lanes. The project’s estimated completion date is October 2022.
Meanwhile, patching projects continue across the state.
West Virginia Division of Highways road crews have spent 18,185 hours, $988,214 and used 3,769 tons of asphalt patching potholes in the state since asphalt plants began to reopen at the end of February.
District 2, which includes Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Logan and Mingo counties, has already patched more than 955 tons worth of holes totaling more than 4,981 man hours and $263,624 in costs.
District 1, which includes Putnam, Kanawha, Mason, Boone and Clay counties, has patched more than 1,301 tons totaling 5,616 hours and $316,143.
CHARLESTON — The West Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday passed 78-20 a ban on transgender middle- and high-school students playing on sports teams matching their gender identity.
The bill (House Bill 3293) now heads to the state Senate, which is also controlled by a Republican supermajority. Thursday’s vote came despite Democrats noting there were no known issues with this in West Virginia, and despite their impassioned speeches.
“For those of you that are going to vote green because you really think it’s a problem, you know, I pray for you to find wisdom and someday realize that this isn’t an issue,” said Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha.
Pushkin said he thinks the majority of support for the bill was out of “political expediency” by those who know it isn’t an issue. To those people, he said, “I’m going to pray for you that you find half the courage of these children that you’re alienating today and you vote red and you vote this mean-spirited bill down.”
Del. Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, was the last Democrat to speak Thursday.
“My daughter is different, my daughter plays sports, my daughter is beautiful, my daughter is intelligent, and she has left this state,” Fleischauer said. “And it is this kind of bill that will ensure that she will never come back.
“Please don’t pass this bill. You are demonizing little children, and you are demonizing my baby,” she said.
Four of the House’s 23 Democrats — Mick Bates, D-Raleigh; Brent Boggs, D-Braxton; Nathan Brown, D-Mingo; and Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel — voted for the bill.
Only one of the 77 Republicans voted against the bill: Del. Josh Higginbotham, R-Putnam. Dels. Roy Cooper, R-Summers, and Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, were absent.
“As we think about this, instead of feeling about it, we need to realize that there are innate physiological advantages for males, and that’s why we have unisex sports,” said Del. Chris Phillips, R-Barbour.
Phillips said the bill would protect kids who “work incredibly hard to get their spot on the team, to get their playing time on the court and, for many of them, to get a college scholarship.”
Del. Roger Conley, R-Wood, read from the Bible.
He then said “to believe that there is a man that thinks they should be a woman, or a woman that thinks they should be a man, is saying that my God made a mistake. And I’ve got news for all of you: My God does not make a mistake.”
The ban would apply only to sports under the supervision of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (SSAC), which includes public schools broadly and some major private schools, such as Charleston Catholic. The bill is unclear, though, on whether it affects all schools in the SSAC or just the public schools.
Co-ed sports would not be affected.
In order to participate in a sport, the bill says a student must present an “original” birth certificate showing their birth sex or a “signed physician’s statement indicating the pupil’s sex based solely on the pupil’s unaltered internal and external reproductive anatomy.”
“I didn’t come to Charleston to legalize or legitimize unwanted childhood sexual assault,” said Del. Joey Garcia, D-Marion. “That is what this is. It is absolutely what this is, along with a psychological attack, an emotional attack on some of our most vulnerable people in the state of West Virginia.”
About half of transgender teen boys have attempted suicide at least once, according to a 2019 study in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Garcia noted transgender children in general have high suicide attempt rates.
“I did not come to Charleston to take any action that would make it more likely that anybody who is considering whether or not this life is worth living anymore, to push them over the edge,” he said.
The legality of the bill could be in question because of federal-level decisions on transgender rights, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia.
A 2020 ruling from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers West Virginia, upheld transgender students’ rights to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. It is unclear whether those rights could extend to sports access.
The 4th Circuit’s ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Earlier in 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that firing someone for being gay or transgender violated part of the federal law called Title VII.
The ACLU and Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, have cited these court rulings in saying the bill could also violate Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in sports. They say that may jeopardize federal funding.
Furthermore, President Joe Biden has issued an executive order supporting transgender rights.
Bernie Dolan, executive director of the SSAC, said that, currently, eligibility to play on single-sex teams is based on whichever sex a school labels a student in the West Virginia Education Information System, or WVEIS.