Owners of Southfield smoking lounge claim discrimination, harassment by city, police

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – The owners of Burn Hookah Bar, located in the 28000 block of Northwestern Highway, claim police have been showing up at the bar constantly and it's affecting their business.

They claim the hookah bar used to be packed, but after police crashed the party over and over again, customers have started to clear out, dramatically affecting the business. 

Hookah lounges are a popular place to relax and smoke flavored tobacco. Each municipality has its own ordinances, and Southfield has a tough one: No hookah after midnight. 

5.134 (2) (k) 2. --  Hours of operation are limited to 10:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M.

Anniece Warren said she was not informed of that ordinance before she bought the Burn Hookah Bar. She claims the previous owner had no problem staying open after midnight and police never bothered them, but when she bought the lounge, the police started showing up on a regular basis.

A lawsuit filed in federal court claims the city of Southfield is treating the new African-American owner differently than it treated the former owners, who were white.

The suit claims the former owners were allowed to operate without a license and stay open well after midnight, but Warren was hit with multiple citations.

"The police began to harass me every day," Warren said. "They began to sit outside the business. They had their lights pointing in, shining straight into the business."

The lawsuit claims police came to Burn Hookah Bar 37 times on calls including stabings, gunshots, fights and drugs during the previous ownership -- many taking place after midnight and the city did not use the incidents as reasons to deny a smoking license. The lawsuit alleges the city "embarked on a relentless campaign and began a pattern, policy, custom or practice of harassing Warren and Burn Hookah in an attempt to drive Warren and Burn Hookah out of business."

Warren's request for a smoking license was denied.

"Without a license, you can't operate," Warren said. "However, the previous owner sat here for five years and never had a license and operated everyday to 4 or 5 in the morning."

Warren sold Burn Hookah Bar to Roger Mason, a local social media model, who said he wanted to create a safe, fun place for people to go. Mason claims the city discriminated against him as well.

Mason said the final straw was when Southfield police drove out to his Clarkston home and arrested him in front of his neighbors for citations that were written against the comapany, not him as an individual. 

The deputy police chief referred Local 4 to its legal department, where a spokesperson said the city and police department do not respond publicly to matters in litigation.

The city is required to respond to the lawsuit by June 11.