Hamilton County Circuit Court judge blocks night events at Mosaic

by Cliff Hightower
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Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd discusses Mosaic church

Parties are at an end at Mosaic church after a judge ruled Friday that only church services will be allowed in its building at 412 Market St.

But its pastor said a planned New Year’s Eve event will go on at another location.

Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Hollingsworth issued a temporary restraining order Friday, limiting the types of activities at the Mosaic church.

“The event advertised for [Friday] night and the event advertised for [Saturday] night will not go on,” Hollingsworth said.

His decision came after the Rev. Tim Reid, pastor of Mosaic church, and attorneys for the property owners and the city reached an agreement before the start of a hearing Friday morning.

David L. Moss, attorney for Beverly Henry, who is listed as the property owner, said the owners felt they had few choices after a city codes and fire inspection on Thursday. Given a resulting order that limited occupancy in the building to 100 people, the church wouldn’t be able to hold events other than services anyway, he said.

The city asked Wednesday for an injunction to close the Mosaic Arts Venue, which houses Mosaic church and some art galleries. The venue also hosts River City Church, which meets, but at a different time than Mosaic.

Since 2006, police have responded to numerous assault calls from the church and its urban youth outreach program, Club Fathom. Fresh controversy erupted this week after a shooting following a Christmas Eve event hosted by Club Fathom.

As about 400 young people flooded out into a parking lot behind the church on Cherry Street, gunfire rang out and nine people were wounded. Police blamed rival gangs for the attack, but no arrests have been announced.

After Friday’s hearing, Reid said he will hold a New Year’s Eve event tonight at another church. He wouldn’t give the church’s name, saying he feared retaliation from the city.

Mayor Ron Littlefield said Friday that the city does not want to interfere with “legitimate” church services and the city would not try to target an event that Mosaic church holds at another venue.

After all the problems at Mosaic over the years, the mayor said he’s more concerned “for any venue or church that would allow him” to host a New Year’s party.

Littlefield also addressed concerns that the city was “nitpicking” the church with its surprise fire and codes inspection Thursday.

“We don’t deny he got special attention,” Littlefield said, “because he created it on himself.”

State law requires a hearing within 15 days after a temporary restraining order is filed. Attorneys for all parties agreed the 15-day rule could be extended.

Hollingsworth said a trial on whether to make the injunction permanent would be set at a later date.

Moss said he would need to analyze the city’s inspection, given to the defense at the last minute.

“There’s so much info that has not been discovered,” he said.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said the restraining order is one step, but it’s only a temporary fix.

Dodd said he did not plan to target the church over the weekend, but would monitor its activities. He agreed with the mayor about other venues hosting the event.

“They know the risk they are taking,” Dodd said.

McCracken Poston, attorney for River City Church, which meets inside the facility at 11 a.m. Sundays, filed a motion to intervene into the case Thursday. Hollingsworth allowed Poston to express the church’s concerns about the 100-person limit and about being able to use sacramental wine in its church service.

Assistant City Attorney Phil Noblett said the city had no problems with the use of wine.

Hollingsworth agreed.

“I think it’s a recognized exception,” he said.

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