The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC


August 9, 2013

Internet cafe owner files lawsuit against county, sheriff

TARBORO — An internet cafe owner filed a lawsuit against Edgecombe County and the sheriff's department for the right to reopen the establishment located on N.C. Highway 33, north of Tarboro.

Winston-Salem Attorney Donald R. Pocock filed the lawsuit June 20, for his client, Tony Blackly, the owner of Lucky Land Internet Cafe. The lawsuit alleges that Lucky Land, which uses the "Frontier System," does not violate any gaming or gambling laws. It also asks for a judgment to prohibit law enforcement officials from threatening to close or closing the business.

County Attorney Michael Peters informed the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners during its Monday night regularly scheduled meeting about the lawsuit. He said the suit does not have arguments against the county and its name should be removed as a defendant. He was given the authority to attempt to remove the county's name.

"It's not clear to me why (the county's name is on the lawsuit)," Peters said. "I guess because the plantiff assumes that Sheriff (James) Knight is an Edgecombe County employee and the county is responsible for his action.

"It's clear that the county is not responsible for the sheriff. He is an elected official. As far as the county goes, in my opinion, it should be dismissed from this lawsuit. It hasn't done anything wrong and (the lawsuit) doesn't allege that it has done anything wrong."

Sheriff Knight said because of the ongoing litigation, he would not comment.

In January, the State Supreme Court upheld a law that banned internet cafes. At that time, at least eight internet cafes were operating in Edgecombe County.

In an effort to fairly impose the law throughout the county, a collaborative meeting between Edgecombe County District Attorney Robert Evans and the county's law enforcement officials was held. During that meeting, it was determined that internet cafes were in violation of state laws. The conclusion led to law enforcement officials sending letters to internet cafe owners in their jurisdiction, which served as a notice to close their establishments. At one time, all the cafes in the county had closed.

 Since the lawsuit was filed, Lucky Land and two more internet cafes, one in Princeville and another in Macclesfield, have reopened.

Blackly's lawsuit is arguing that his machines comply with the provisions set forth by the new legislation.

"We're aware of it reopening and we're investigating the matter as we speak," said Princeville Police Chief Joey Petway. "The DA has given us guidelines to go by and we will follow them at some point."

The three reopenings may have the owner of Past Times Internet Cafe hollering foul. On July 26, the owner and two of his employees were convicted in Edgecombe County District Court for operating an illegal electronic sweepstakes business. In the ruling, the judge ordered them to serve 30-days in jail, but suspended it and ordered them to pay a $200 fine and cost of court. The verdicts were appealed to Superior Court.

Past Times, which was located in Tarboro town limits, was raided by the police department April 15. The owner was given notice to close the establishment but failed to do so. Currently there are no Internet Cafe businesses in Tarboro.



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