DEEPER FINDINGS: With nude dancing shuttered in Sandy Springs, one club fights back

Flashers sued the city of Sandy Springs regarding a 2016 raid that temporarily closed the strip club. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) AJC FILE PHOTO

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Flashers sued the city of Sandy Springs regarding a 2016 raid that temporarily closed the strip club. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) AJC FILE PHOTO

Sandy Springs may have won the battle to shut down its strip clubs, but at least one venue is going down swinging.

Flashers, one of the three clubs in the city forced out of business in September, filed a federal lawsuit against Sandy Springs late last week claiming a 2016 search that shut down the club for several days was illegal.

It’s another in a series of recent skirmishes between strip clubs and city governments across Atlanta’s suburbs as municipalities try to exert more local control to restrict or outlaw nude dancing.

In Chamblee, owners of Follies sued the city on Monday, accusing leaders of trying to shut down the strip club by outlawing lap dances, limiting its hours and revoking its liquor license. Adult businesses have also been battling restrictive laws in Brookhaven and Doraville.

The Sandy Springs suit claims Flashers, which had been open since 1990, was forced to close for 11 days in December 2016 after a raid by the fire marshal, Douglas Brown.

Brown said he found violations that had to be corrected immediately, the suit said, and the club was shut down because it was unsafe. After Flashers made the repairs, the suit alleges, Brown said the work was done without a permit and that he had found new violations that would keep the club closed.

When an electrician applied for permits for repairs, the suit said, Sandy Springs denied them without an explanation. It wasn’t until Flashers filed for a temporary restraining order requiring the shutdown order be withdrawn that a court allowed them to reopen.

In the suit, Flashers alleges that the order to close “was not based on an actual emergency or exigent threat to the health, safety and welfare of the community, but instead was pretextual in nature and intended to harass or harm Flashers.”

The club claims that its first amendment rights were violated by Brown and the city’s actions.

In a night-time inspection, the suit said, city officials would turn off the music, turn on the house lights, stop dance performances, check identification and would not let people leave the building.

"The timing and conduct of the 'night inspection' was purposely calculated to scare away Flashers's performers and patrons so that Flashers was unable, or severely crippled in trying, to reopen its business after repairs were made," the suit said.

It also said the city “objected to the message communicated by Flashers” and other strip clubs: namely, that “Exotic dance performances communicate a specific message of eroticism which includes both an intellectual component and an emotive component emphasizing sensuality, passion and excitement.”

Sandy Springs has been embroiled in legal battles with its strip clubs since shortly after it was incorporated as a city, 13 years ago. When it was formed, the city denied liquor licenses to its clubs, Flashers and the Coronet Club & Doll House on Roswell Road and Mardi Gras, on Powers Ferry Road near Northside Drive.

The clubs had continued operating while arguing the denials, but exhausted their appeals in September and shut down. At the time, Cary Wiggins, an attorney who is also representing Flashers in its suit, said they closed because without alcohol sales, the venues could not be profitable.

Sharon Kraun, a Sandy Springs spokesperson, said she had not seen the recent suit and could not comment on it.