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Revised on: 01.15.2018 at 05:10 p.m.
Posted on: 01.12.2018 at 03:57 p.m.
The Hideaway Club at Bolton will remain closed under an agreement between law enforcement and the owner.
The owner of the illegal nightspot, John Henry Freeman, entered into a consent decree this morning in Columbus County Superior Court, promising not to allow alcohol to be on the premises of the Lizzie’s Drive property, or to operate or allow to operate a long list of businesses that could encourage alcohol and drug use. Failure to meet any part of the agreement will mean jail time.
District Attorney Jon David announced the agreement moments after an unusual civil hearing before Superior Court Judge Doug Sasser. Freeman was represented by Matt Tedder.
The Hideaway Lounge was voluntarily closed but without legal action in 2013, after pressure from the sheriff’s office. The property then changed hands several times before Freeman reopened the club, under several different names, around three years ago.
The District Attorney’s Office, state Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) Nuisance Abatement Team, State Bureau of Investigation and Sheriff’s Office began working together to close the club after Ricky Heckstall was shot on the premises Nov. 24. He drove himself to Riegelwood, where he was transferred to an ambulance and rushed to New Hanover Regional. Heckstall died at the Wilmington hospital. His murder remains unsolved.
A non-fatal shooting was tied to the club last summer. No charges have been filed in that case.
“There was a dangerous environment created by the nightclub on that property,” David said.
“We have had two homicides there, quite a number of shootings and assaults, and my staff has investigated a number of other incidents there,” said Sheriff Lewis Hatcher.
Samuel Odell Hampton’s death at the club led to the original shutdown. Jerry Lee Moore received a life sentence for that killing. Hampton’s family was in the courtroom Friday for the civil hearing but did not make a statement to the press.
David detailed a timeline of events at the illegal nightclub, stretching back to well before Hampton’s murder.
The Bolton Police Department reported going to the property 75 times before the agency closed in 2014. A number of other responses by Bolton Police were not reported. With the shutdown of the department that year, crime has steadily risen in Bolton, and the Hideaway eventually expanded and reopened. Deputies were called to area numerous times to investigate reports of shots fired, fighting, drug activity and other suspected crimes.
Freeman was arrested for unlicensed sale of alcohol and possession of gaming machines Nov. 29. He has not been charged in connection with Heckstall’s death.
Social media pages for the club, operating under several names, showed dancing, drinking what appeared to be alcohol, and other activities in the nightclub. The patrons to the club came from across the region, and a number of their posts described alcohol-fueled parties and dance contests at the Hideaway.
ALE and SBI agents, along with deputies, seized several cash registers, a large quantity of alcohol, 18 televisions, and gaming machines from the club, which has been closed since Heckstall’s death.
Freeman was officially served with the consent order by Sheriff Lewis Hatcher in the Superior Courtroom on Friday.
David said there was no question the property was set up as an illegal nightclub.
“Among the things discovered on the property were alcohol, multiple cash registers, a satellite television hookup, a full-service bar, lighting systems, a hot tub, a recording studio and what has been described as a ‘stripper pole’,” David said.
Social media played a role in the investigation that led to Friday’s judgment, David said.
“People go to these places, post pictures of what is going on, and we know where to look,” he said.
David met with Freeman last month, then met again with Freeman and his attorney before the hearing. Under the terms of the agreement, while Freeman owns the property, alcohol is not allowed to be on the premises in any fashion, and any business that opens there must be closed from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m.
Specifically forbidden in the court order is any kind of “adult establishment, topless bar, lounge, night club, private club, bar, dance club, disco, game room, concert venue or similar business which may attract gatherings of people on or around the property.” As part of the civil agreement, the criminal charges against Freeman will likely be dropped, David said.
The property is to remain vacant for a year, according to the judgment, and only government official and utility workers may be at the location without being accompanied by Freeman. The property is also required to be posted as closed until Dec. 31, 2022, unless a “legitimate business” moves there.
Hatcher said that investigators are continuing to work the Heckstall killing and other investigations tied to the club. Since illegal alcohol sales occurred at the location of the murder, David said, the SBI and ALE are assisting in the investigation. The jukejoint has been a thorn in the side of the Bolton community for years, the sheriff said.
“We are counting on the people of Bolton and the surrounding area to help us monitor this situation,” he said. “If they hear of anything, we are asking them to let us know.”
David said shutting down the club was a joint effort by all the agencies involved.
Justin Hewett and Rebecca Dean of the ALE Nuisance Abatement Task Force led the effort for that agency.
See video of the District Attorney’s press conference on the Hideaway agreement on our Facebook page.