It may seem odd for the owner of a strip club to complain about slimy men objectifying exotic dancers. That is, after all, the nature of the business. But Stephanie Capps, owner of Stephanie’s Cabaret, says that when Metro cops harass her dancers, she’s got a problem.
According to a court transcript obtained by the Scene, Capps testified in circuit court last month that when she brought a group of dancers to police headquarters to be fingerprinted—as required by the newly enforced Metro adult entertainment ordinance—the cops made inappropriate, sexually suggestive comments to her employees. Capps claimed that a row of uniformed and non-uniformed police lined up and leered at the women, making comments like, “Well, look what we have here,” and “Nashville’s finest walking right through.” Capps said the women were “herded through like cattle, like a show” and called their treatment “very humiliating and unprofessional.”
Eventually, Capps testified, the women were taken upstairs to the fingerprinting lab. There, she said, a male police employee asked if they should “fingerprint those,” indicating a woman’s breasts. Capps said the “laughing and joking and kidding around” got so ridiculous and time-consuming that two female police employees came in and took over the job from the men. Sort of like Animal House, but publicly funded.
Judge Marietta Shipley instructed a city attorney to notify the police of the allegations. On Tuesday, police spokesman Don Aaron got a copy of the transcript. “We have reviewed the transcript and are talking with our identification division personnel to see if they have any knowledge of these alleged improprieties,” he says, expressing clear skepticism about the allegations. Deputy Chief Steve Anderson has directed the appropriate captain to look into the situation immediately and report back to him, Aaron says. As of late Tuesday afternoon, a preliminary check of department logs showed that Capps signed into the building at 12:45 p.m. on Dec. 5, 2005, and was fingerprinted by a female employee. Aaron says that employee will be interviewed this week.
Capps made her allegation during a Feb. 14 court proceeding during which her adult club and others requested that Shipley order the city not to enforce the sexually oriented business law that has been winding its way through the federal court system since 1997. She ruled against the clubs, and the ordinance remains in effect. (So far, about 250 “entertainers” and a dozen businesses have been licensed.)
Nashville attorney Bob Lynch, who represents Capps, says her testimony reinforces the argument that requiring exotic dancers to get background checks is unnecessary—and unnecessarily demeaning. “The reason the evidence was offered was to demonstrate that the requirement for them to be fingerprinted in a criminal check is humiliating and embarrassing,” he says, noting that the government has no reason to subject them to such scrutiny. “It’s not like they’re a national security risk or anything. Absent a state interest, why are they doing it? Other than to embarrass these young women?”
Or in the pithy words of at-large Metro Council member Adam Dread, who’s latched onto this women’s rights issue (his words) with enthusiasm: “We’re not doing background checks on jugglers—or clowns, which are probably more dangerous to the public—so I don’t know why we need to do them on dancers.”
Metro legal director Karl Dean says courts have consistently sided with the city on this issue, and Metro keeps such license records confidential to protect dancers’ privacy and prevent embarrassment. In that light, he says, the city will take Capps’ allegations very seriously. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things,” Dean says. “And if that is the way people were treated, we’ll do better.”