WELLSVILLE - Officers from the Wellsville Police Department descended on Joe's Bar and Grill and the adjacent Howie's Drive-Thru Friday morning, armed with a court order to shut the businesses down.
"The reason we're here today is to board it up and take inventory," said Wellsville Police Chief Joe Scarabino.
A local locksmith was present to give officers entry into the building and to change the locks on all of the doors at the bar and the drive through business next door. Police also brought a load of particle board, which was used to cover over all of the windows on the basement, first floor and second floors of the building.
A large box truck was provided for officers to take inventory from both of the businesses. Scarabino declined to specify which items were going to be taken and would only say that it was part of an ongoing investigation into the businesses involving investigators from the state Division of Liquor Control and Wellsville Police.
"A lot of investigative work went into today's activity," Scarabino said. He thanked the Columbiana County Prosecutor's Office for their efforts in making it possible. "We were able to present them with enough evidence that they felt that this place was a nuisance," he said.
County Prosecutor Robert Herron was on hand watching the operation unfold. He complimented Scarabino and his officers for their work in providing the materials that made the process a success.
The evidence presented at the hearing was distilled from 160 reports from 2009 to the present involving complaints to police or requiring police intervention at the bar and drive through. Herron referred to the array of reports as being "primarily drug-related incidents, but anything ranging from loitering to gunplay."
The nuisance motion was filed in common pleas court on Thursday, resulting in a temporary restraining order from Judge C. Ashley Pike authorizing police to close the businesses and take control of the buildings. Herron said a preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for Feb. 19, at which time he will ask Pike for a court order closing the property for one year.
"At the end of the year, we'll ask for it to be permanently closed," Herron said.
The property is owned by Joseph Pappas of Riverside Avenue. Scarabino said Pappas was informed of the operation prior to its taking place.
When asked if charges were to be filed against Pappas in court, Herron replied, "This is a civil action. It is a civil action to close the operations of the site where the nuisance exists."
The closure of the bar included the two apartments located on the second floor of the building, leaving the occupants of those apartments a few hours to pack their belongings and find other places to stay.
Jade McKinnon said she and her neighbor above the bar had no warning that the building was going to be closed. "We just woke up, and they just knocked on our door and told us that we had to get our [stuff] out," she said. McKinnon began crying, saying that she and her three children had nowhere to go.
"It's unfortunate, but it's just the way it is," Scarabino said. He stated the court order specifies the need to shut down and close up the entirety of 1501 Main St., which necessarily includes those two apartments.
Also very upset was Tammy Williams, the mother of McKinnon's upstairs neighbor, Kristen Barnes. "I can understand if they want to shut the bar down or shut the drive through down, for whatever reason, but to put three families out up there? The children?"
Williams' husband, Wellsville Police Officer Howard Williams, was involved with the businesses at 1501 Main St., including the eponymous Howie's Drive-Thru and the bar, which is still listed on some internet search sites as Joe's Bar and Grill, but is called Howie's Bar on other sites.
Neither Pappas or Howard Williams could be reached for comment.