Strip club sues Pittsburgh over denied security

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The Blush strip club's owners are headed to federal court to argue the city violated their constitutional rights for refusing to allow off-duty police officers to moonlight as security at the club.

"You have the state -- through the police department -- casting aspersions on a legal business," Jonathan Kamin, an attorney for Blush, said. "That's harmful to our business and to the entire industry."

The lawsuit alleges that acting police Chief Regina McDonald's decision to bar off-duty officers from providing security at Blush violates the First and 14th Amendment guarantees of free speech, due process and equal protection.

The suit also alleges that the city is violating Blush's rights to equal protection under the law and due process, since other industries are not directly affected and the club was given less than 48 hours' notice of the policy change.

Mr. Kamin said Chief McDonald's decision violates the club's First Amendment rights because the club is a target only because of its particular expression of speech.

Mr. Kamin had hoped for an injunction Thursday afternoon that would allow the club to continue hiring off-duty officers until a decision is made on the merits of the case.

But the city's request to move the case to federal court delayed such a ruling.

City solicitor Daniel Regan said federal court is the more appropriate legal setting for the case because "these are federal questions."

The lawsuit comes after acting Chief McDonald issued a directive March 13 barring officers from moonlighting at Blush, Downtown, and at Cheerleaders in the Strip District.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said Chief McDonald had no comment on the suit.

The police bureau's secondary employment practices have been widely criticized in the wake of last week's federal indictment of former Chief Nate Harper. He is accused of diverting more than $70,000 of secondary-employment revenue into an unauthorized account and spending about $30,000 on alcohol, food, a television and other personal expenses.

Chief McDonald changed the policy because "working at such a location 'may tend to bring the bureau in disrepute,' " according to the suit.

Mr. Kamin rejected that argument, noting the club has operated since the 1930s and has used off-duty police officers for more than 48 years.

"[Blush] is a family-owned business. It's a pillar of the community."

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Alex Zimmerman: or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman.


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