Strip club owner sues Kentwood pastor over ‘bully’ remark

January 26, 2012 - A general view from outside of The Mansion an adult club featuring exotic dancers on Thursday, January 26, 2012 near Amite, La.  (Photo by: Derick Hingle)
January 26, 2012 - A general view from outside of The Mansion an adult club featuring exotic dancers on Thursday, January 26, 2012 near Amite, La. (Photo by: Derick Hingle)

The owner of a St. Helena Parish strip club has sued a pastor for calling him a “schoolyard bully” while the minister lobbied to have the club shut down.

Tyrone Butler, owner of The Mansion near Montpelier, filed his defamation lawsuit in 21st Judicial District Court in St. Helena Parish against the Rev. Richard Sandberg, pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in Kentwood.

Butler also names the Moral Alliance of St. Helena, or MASH, as a defendant in the suit. Sandberg runs MASH.

Butler claims he has suffered emotional distress and anguish after Sandberg’s “schoolyard bully” comment during a June 25 St. Helena Police Jury meeting.

During that meeting, police jurors discussed passing a resolution exempting current sexually oriented businesses such as Butler’s from an ordinance adopted at the jury’s June 11 meeting that regulates strip clubs and similar businesses in the parish.

The resolution passed in a 4-2 vote.

Sandberg, during that meeting, asked police jurors not to “bow down to the intimidation and fear tactics of a schoolyard bully,” referring to Butler.

Butler says in his suit that he has suffered mental anguish and emotional distress as a result of Sandberg’s comments, as well as standing with his peers.

Butler seeks damages from Sandberg.

In a prepared statement, Sandberg said Butler’s lawsuit is an intimidation tactic against him and others trying to close St. Helena’s strip clubs.

“While we have experienced both setbacks and success, we have stayed the course and exercised our First Amendment rights to speak out for what we believe in,” Sandberg said. “That right is now being threatened.”

Butler’s attorney, DeVonna Ponthieu, did not return calls for comment Friday.

Residents have complained about The Mansion, as well as the Oak Ridge Lounge in Pine Grove, and have lobbied for their shuttering. Sandberg has been one of the leaders in that drive.

The Police Jury voted June 11 to adopt two changes to the parish code to control and regulate sexually oriented businesses in St. Helena.

The first change amends the chapter that regulates alcohol licenses for local businesses. The change will prohibit nudity and “certain physical contact” between patrons and employees of licensed alcohol-serving businesses.

The second change creates a new chapter to license and regulate “sexually oriented businesses and employees.”

Violation of either of the new ordinances will result in either a maximum 30-day jail sentence or a $500 fine, or both.

Butler vented frustration at the Police Jury after the ordinances passed, then stormed out of the meeting room. He indicated he would challenge the new ordinances in court.

Jurors then voted on June 25 to adopt a resolution exempting current sexually oriented businesses — The Mansion and Oak Ridge Lounge — from the new ordinances enacted June 11.

Sandberg has told police jurors that treating certain businesses differently from others could potentially expose the Police Jury to a lawsuit.