Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel is facing allegations of anti-Hmong bias in a federal lawsuit filed by the owners of a former Wausau nightclub.
The lawsuit, filed in early May by I.C. Willy's owners Tom and Sue Nowell, accuses Hardel of "over-policing" and "hostility based on anti-Hmong animus," according to federal court documents. I.C. Willy's, which has since been demolished, opened in October 2009 on E. Kent Street and catered to a largely Hmong crowd, court documents show.
In its first two months of operation, the tavern received multiple citations for loud music. The Nowells say Hardel was also offended by a "Girls Gone Wild" performance, leading him to "make life difficult for the club" in retaliation for presenting such a show.
In December 2009, the Nowells accepted a voluntary 15-day suspension. No new noise complaint violations were filed against the club until May 8, 2010. That's when Officer John Jurasin cited the bar for having excessive noise, an incident that prompted the city council to reject renewing I.C. Willy's liquor license.
The lawsuit accuses the city of violating the Nowells rights, intentionally treating the tavern differently from others in the area. Other taverns "essentially identical to I.C. Willy's" but which catered to a predominantly white clientele had as many or more noise and underage drinking violations and did not have their licenses suspended, revoked or non-renewed, according to the lawsuit.
The Nowells are seeking unspecified damages from Hardel, Jurasin and from the city. This is the latest twist in the Nowells’ years-long attempt to get some kind of restitution for their business’ closure. A pretrial conference is set for Aug. 11, at which time trial dates could be set.