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Cowgirls night club's license suspended for 31 days for not reporting fight

By Gheni_Platenburg
July 19, 2011 at 2:19 a.m.

Rudy Cardenas, former head of security of Cowgirls, claims he was fired for being Hispanic. The Cowgirls club is facing a variety of troubles, including Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission violations and a labor investigation.

You might think the Cowgirls Night Club traveled back to a time of lawlessness in the Old West.

Despite being voted in The Advocate's 2011 Best of the Best competition as one of the best places in The Crossroads to dance, listen to country music, people watch and meet singles, the club as of late is not deserving of those "best" categories.

For some former employees and club-goers, ongoing legal issues have left Cowgirls facing lots of problems.

"Everything they do is on a whim. There's no policy," said Rudolph "Rudy" Cardenas, former head of security at the club. "It's like driving a pirate ship."

Cowgirls Night Club is Jeffrey Tisdale's second foray into the night club business.

A former ballroom dancer, Tisdale, 37, opened Club Baile in Victoria in 2007.

He opened Cowgirls in October 2009.

Tisdale, the sole managing member of Cowgirls, has blamed many of his legal violations on his lack of experience in the bar business.

"I don't have all the business experience, but I'm learning," he said. "I want to get this behind me and take the punishment."

TABC AND DPS TROUBLES

Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission records showed Tisdale's violations dating from December 2007 to present, with those related to Cowgirls Night Club beginning in August.

The vast majority of those violations are for failure to report breaches of the peace, for which he has received fines totaling $33,900.

One failure to report a breach of peace violation and its subsequent $9,000 fine stemmed from an October fight at the club that left two men with multiple stab wounds.

Three Victoria men were in three fist fights that night.

The first fight, inside the club, resulted in the group getting kicked out. The second two happened in the parking lot shortly afterward.

The stabbings occurred during the third fight.

Cowgirls' staff failed to call police following the first fight.

"We felt the situation was mishandled by the staff, which in part resulted in the stabbing in the parking lot," said Mark Menn, a lieutenant with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's enforcement division. "The police weren't called."

The most recent breach of the peace occurred in April, during which a member of the Cowgirls unlicensed security team assaulted and detained one of the customers with handcuffs, said Menn.

He said the customer sustained injuries but chose not to pursue charges at the time.

As a result of that incident, TABC temporarily suspended the bar's liquor license for 31 days.

"This is a mandatory shut down, not just a fine like in the past," said Menn. "We felt the staff member was excessive in how they treated the customer."

During the suspension, which will be from Aug. 31 through Sept. 29, the club cannot sell or purchase liquor.

Additionally, liquor other than what is already in their stock, cannot be on the Cowgirls premises.

"(Tisdale) can remain open for business, but without the authority of the TABC permit, there's not much he can do," said Menn. "He can allow pool playing and dancing."

Tisdale, who said his staff was justified in detaining the customer out of fear that he would harm himself or someone else at the club, said he pleaded no contest to the latest breach of peace allegation.

Tisdale said the possibility of drawn out litigation and possibly upsetting the TABC led him to forgo fighting the TABC charges.

As of Wednesday, Tisdale said he was undecided about whether he will open the club during the suspension.

On June 16, a Texas Department of Public Safety-led raid on Cowgirls resulted in the arrest of three men on charges of impersonating security officers.

James Hernandez, 25; Derek Mendenhall, 23; and Randy Sparks, 18, were arrested.

In November, the Regulatory Service Division of DPS received a complaint from the public that Cowgirls used people as security who did not have private security licenses from the DPS Private Security Bureau to work as security guards.

The employees wore black T-shirts with the word "Security" printed on the back of them.

The men were charged with impersonation of a security officer, a Class A misdemeanor.

They have since been released from jail, each on $1,000 surety bonds.

"TABC and law enforcement came in regularly and never mentioned that," said Tisdale. "It would have been nice to get a courtesy to know that we were in violation of that security issue - the word security written on the shirts. We would have resolved it."

Their cases are pending.

Tisdale said he has now contracted security services with Zapata Security.

EEOC COMPLAINT

In April, Cardenas, the former head of security, filed a wrongful firing complaint against Tisdale with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Cardenas, 49, claimed he was fired because of his age and his ethnicity, which is Hispanic.

"I've held my grind for over a year," said Cardenas. "I decided to go through the legal system to find closure."

Cardenas began working at the club in October 2009, working his way up from just a member of the club's security staff to of head of security.

A week after taking over as the head of security, the October fight that ended in the stabbings occurred.

Cardenas said he broke up the first fight and reported it to Stacie Graves, club manager.

He alleged Graves failed to report the first fight to police within 24 hours, which resulted in a TABC violation and $9,000 fine.

Despite having notified Graves about the fight, which Cardenas said was the protocol, Tisdale fired him in December.

"I wouldn't be in this situation if (Tisdale) had just done the right thing," Cardenas said.

Tisdale told a different story.

"He didn't make sure the fighters left the property, and he didn't inform Stacie," said Tisdale. "He felt like he was the new sheriff in town, and he could call the shots."

The club owner said Cardenas was ultimately fired due to a combination of Cardenas' actions after the fight as well as a pattern of lying to his supervisors.

The men went to mediation in Houston on Monday where they settled their issues, according to Cardenas and Tisdale.

Both men declined to elaborate on the specifics of the settlement, but Tisdale said he did offer Cardenas his job back.

As of Wednesday, Cardenas had not accepted the offer.

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR INVESTIGATION

A call from an unpaid and unhappy employee prompted the U.S. Department of Labor to first become suspicious of Tisdale's labor dealings.

The caller, a Cowgirls Night Club bartender, complained that she and others had not received their promised pay during their nearly year-long employment at Cowgirls, which began in October 2009.

"(Tisdale) said he wanted to wait until January, and then he would back pay us," said Valarie Jones, who said she and others continued to work under the assured promises that back pay in the form of $7.25 an hour was forthcoming. "We were initially OK with that because we were getting tips."

Yet, with the passage of January and many more months thereafter, Jones said it soon became apparent the pay was not on its way.

"I was told I was going to get paid $7.25 an hour. I counted on that," said Jones, who eventually made the call to the Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor investigation began researching the club's records from Oct. 1, 2009, to Oct. 23, 2010, said Juan J. Rodriguez, deputy regional director for the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Public Affairs.

During its investigation, investigators discovered Tisdale had failed to not only pay employees tip wages, but he also failed to keep a proper record of hours worked, said Rodriguez.

Based on their findings, investigators mandated that Tisdale pay 11 unpaid employees a combined total of $19,696.83 in tip wages by Dec. 10.

"This allegation that employees were promised $7.25 per hour was not substantiated in the course of the investigation," said Rodriguez.

Tisdale also agreed to pay employees tip wages from there on out, guarantee minimum wage and overtime pay and keep proper records as required by law, said Rodriguez.

"I didn't go to school for business. I've never done payroll," said Tisdale. "I underpaid them because I didn't pay them."

He continued, "I was found liable. I had a talk with the employees. I told them it was unintentional."

Tisdale continues to contend that his employees were not expecting the money back.

The case against Tisdale was closed in January.

Tisdale said he has since hired a company in Houston to handle the club's payroll.

WRONGFUL ARREST

It was all a set up.

At least that is how Victoria resident Jessica Lynn Rinehart explained her arrest at Cowgirls Night Club in November.

Rinehart, 21, was arrested for misdemeanor criminal trespassing after Graves, the bar manager, had a criminal trespassing warning issued against her months earlier.

Rinehart alleged that Graves had the warning issued against her because of a personal vendetta.

Graves denied the allegations.

In a written statement, Graves said Rinehart came into the club using another person's ID so she could get in as an adult.

She said Rinehart lied to police about her identity before eventually confessing who she really was and then was told to leave the premises.

Despite the warning against her, Rinehart said she returned to the club several times after receiving clearance from Graves.

Graves denied giving Rinehart clearance to return to the club.

On March 11, the state dismissed the case against Rinehart.

Rinehart has consulted an attorney about future litigation.

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