Emails: GR approved busted margarita 5K at last minute

Target 8

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A 5K in Grand Rapids that ended with two arrests was not approved to host the event until two days beforehand, according to city emails obtained by Target 8 Monday.

The Aug. 24 Margarita Madness 5K drew more than 1,000 participants by promising tequila and dancing at the finish line, but the proper liquor license was never approved. When organizers were caught serving alcohol at Riverside Park despite the denial, police shut the event down and arrested two organizers. Aaron Scott and Jamilah Board are set to stand trial on charges related to the bust.

Target 8 obtained city emails to and from Scott, the primary contact for the event, through a Freedom of Information Act request. They show he first applied to hold the event in August 2018, but the city still needed certain documents just days before it was supposed to happen. Organizers had been marketing the event online for months before the permit was approved.

Less than two weeks before race day, on Aug. 13, Evette Pittman, supervisor of Grand Rapids’ Office of Special Events, sent Scott screenshots of negative reviews from a Raleigh, North Carolina, race that happened just days prior.

“The city of Grand Rapids is continuing to read concerning reviews about your races across the country including your recent race in Raleigh, NC. The reviews seems to focus on a lack of organization and water which presents a safety issue,” her email reads. “Please advise how these issues will be addressed with your GR event? I have copied (our) special events Police Lieutenant and Fire Captain as the lack of EMS and water are safety concerns.”

Scott was defensive in his reply.

“First off (Raleigh) was a huge success the city was happy as well as the police department after event,” his response started. “…It is easy to read bad comments and gloss over the good ones I seen these comments and most are from people that we addressed at event.”

At that point, Grand Rapids Fire Department Capt. Don Gerkey asked for a map of the course indicating where water and first aid would be located, as well as how many participants were expected. 

The next day, Aug. 14, Pittman responded to Gerkey and told Scott he would need to answer those questions.

“I thought I addressed all concerns yesterday. I explained that we have 2 emts that are on site at all events as well as a registered nurse. We provide all participants with water on the course. I’m not (quite) sure what else you would like me to address we keep going in circles. I’m trying to plan for a successful event next weekend and these are distractions when I should be focusing on other things…” his reply said.

Gerkey also sent Scott an email saying events with more than 500 people require an incident action plan, or IAP. He offered to send a reference to Scott.

“Yes please send not sure what you mean,” Scott replied. 

On Aug. 19, an event coordinator for the city emailed Pittman questioning Scott’s application. She said the 5K’s website listed packet pick-up from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 23 and said that there would be a raffle for a bottle of tequila. 

“His application only lists this date as a set-up day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” the email said.

It’s not clear how the concern was addressed, based on the emails released to Target 8.

Scott sent an IAP to city officials Aug. 21, according to the emails.

A day later and roughly 48 hours before the event, Scott received confirmation the Grand Rapids Office of Special Events approved his event permit. Pittman set up an in-person meeting with him the following day, Friday, Aug. 23.

“GRPD and I met with Aaron Scott the day before the event and reiterated that as he had not received approval from the MLCC the city could not permit him to serve alcohol. But, the approved event elements, 5K, DJ and dance floor, etc could still go on. We discussed him serving alcohol free beverages,” Pittman told Target 8 via email Monday. 

The same day the city approved the permit, an officer from Raleigh warned Pittman about the 5K. She coordinated police personnel for the North Carolina event.

“(Three) of the officers checks bounced. They stated they put new checks in the mail on August 12. However it is August 22 and we have not received any checks… I just don’t want y’all to have the same issue…” the email reads.

Target 8 sent several questions to the city Monday, including whether it is normal to approve a permit only a few days before a scheduled event. Some responses are still being worked on, according to a city spokesperson.

“Our customer service model has us work with events to keep their vision intact. This means we will issue a permit only approving what is approved by the city at the last minute. That was what happened with this event,” Pittman wrote.

Target 8 will provide updates as the city issues more responses.

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