'Kangaroo court': Saginaw officials refuse to let Rita's Southern Soul Food reopen

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SAGINAW (WJRT) (10/16/2017) - Rita Johnson lost her latest bid to reopen her restaurant after a shooting.

Rita's Southern Soul Food Cafe

She and her attorney, Phil Ellison, appeared before a panel of Saginaw city officials, including Clerk Janet Santos, on Monday hoping to win approval for her business license to be reinstated.

The city suspended the license shortly after an early morning May shooting outside the club on Washington Street, with some of the shots coming into Rita's. Police believe up to 60 gunshots were fired.

Johnson had rented the building out to someone who hosted a birthday party concert there. Saginaw police say no arrests have been made in the case.

"Ms. Johnson didn't do one thing to make sure that this event was going to be safe," Brett Meyer, an attorney for the city, told the panel of employees.

The city officials again declined to reinstate the license on Monday, meaning Rita's must remain closed, but Johnson is confident she will win in the end.

She and Ellison have filed two federal lawsuits against the city since the shooting, one of which challenged the city's right to shut off her water.

"We finally got our water back on, so that was a plus for us, and I think that was an admit to guilt," Johnson said.

Ellison said a third lawsuit against the city is likely after Monday's proceedings.

"The process that has been selected and utilized by the city to shut down licenses is illegal," he said.

Ellison particularly takes issue with having city employees comprise the appeals panel. He believes the employees could make their bosses angry if they allow Rita's to reopen, and the employees likely know that, which affects their decisionmaking.

"I even asked about. What basis are you making this decision on?" Ellison said. "No response, this process is a kangaroo court."

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