After years of battling Apache Junction's city council and zoning officials, the Pakistani owner of a Western-themed bar, restaurant, and entertainment venue is now suing for racial discrimination.
Mehmood Mohiuddin, the owner of the Hitching Post Saloon, argues that he's been subjected to unreasonable zoning requirements that white business owners don't have to contend with.
"Mohiuddin has also learned that over the years, City officials referred to him as sand-nigger, camel jockey and terrorist including Defendant [city clerk Kathleen] Connelly," the lawsuit states.
The complaint also says that "during his tenure, former Mayor [John] Insalaco bluntly told Mohiuddin that [he] 'did not belong here' and that 'this was their town' and referred to Mohiuddin with racial epithets behind Mohiuddins back."
Apache Junction is a city of 35,000 people located east of Mesa. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 89.5 percent of the population is white.
Mohiuddin additionally alleges that Connelly and Insalaco "conspired" to launch a state tax audit into his finances in order to find out where he got the money to buy a parcel of land on North Cortez Road that he uses as a parking lot.
Attempts to reach the former mayor, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, were unsuccessful. Connelly did not directly respond to a request for comment. But William Doyle, a Phoenix attorney who is representing the city of Apache Junction, wrote in an email that the city denies the substance of Mohiuddin's claims.
"We have provided him, as we do all citizens, every accommodation with respect to his business, consistent with the City’s ordinances and regulations," Doyle wrote. "The City does not, in policy or practice, engage in discrimination, racial or otherwise. We did not in this matter. We understand the Court denied the request for a temporary restraining order and when the matter is heard on the merits we believe the outcome will be the same."
Court records indicate that Judge Murray Snow denied the motion for a temporary restraining order without prejudice on June 12, noting that Mohiuddin hadn't "demonstrated sufficient facts for this court to conclude that he is likely to prevail on a claim that the CUP conditions imposed by the city are the result of racial or religious animus towards him."
Doyle also noted that Apache Junction hasn't been served with a copy of the lawsuit yet.
Mohiuddin didn't return a message but his Phoenix lawyer, Elizabeth Tate, did.
Asked how Mohiuddin plans on proving the allegations, Tate replied, "We will disclose our evidence pursuant to the Federal Rules of Discovery during the discovery phase of the lawsuit. Documents will be collected. Witnesses will be deposed. It is not appropriate to disclose our evidence or strategy to the press."
Mohiuddin purchased the Hitching Post in 2008 and has turned the bar and pizza place into an Old West-themed destination, buying up adjacent parcels of land and adding activities like bull riding.
But he's faced opposition from neighbors complaining about noise, dust, and light pollution, the Apache Junction and Gold Canyon News reports. In his lawsuit, Mohiuddin claims that those neighbors have harassed him by making "numerous baseless complaints" to state and county officials.
In March, the Apache Junction City Council approved a conditional-use permit that would allow the Hitching Post to hold outdoor concerts, wrestling shows, and sand volleyball and cornhole games. But first, Mohiuddin would have to agree to 28 conditions — 13 of which are "arbitrary and capricious," his lawsuit argues.
Among them: constructing a 12-foot-high, Western-themed fence around the parking lot and the area where events will be taking place, covering the cost of a traffic study, and hiring an engineer to make sure the property's septic system is up to code. The new conditions would also alter the terms of his current development agreement with the city, requiring music and lights to be turned off earlier, and bull riding to take place from 7 to 9 p.m. instead of 8 to 10 p.m.
Mohiuddin's lawsuit argues that businesses owned by white people have been subject to less stringent regulations. Cowboys Up, a Western-themed bar and restaurant on the Apache Trail, only had to agree to six conditions when its owners applied for a conditional use permit in 2013, the suit claims.
In November, Mohiuddin put in a public records request to find out about any complaints against his business and to get a copy of city council minutes where the Hitching Post was discussed. His lawsuit claims that deputy city clerk Jan Mason refused to honor that request.
That's not exactly true: The email that's included with the lawsuit shows that Mason directed Mohiuddin to search the online archive of city council meetings in order to find the information he was looking for. She also told him that he could view the complaint file in the development services department and then put in a request for any specific documents that he wanted.
Mohiuddin's attorney, Elizabeth Tate, wrote in an email that "while Ms. Mason properly directed Mr. Mohiuddin to get the minutes online she did not properly refuse to give him copies of the complaints against his business. That was a simple request that could have been given. The very same request was made by [a] Caucasian and she was given police reports in response. She was not instructed to view the files."
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Asked who that Caucasian resident was, Tate replied, "I am not required to disclose names in the complaint. Already we’ve learned from inside sources that the City is disposing of documents in anticipation of the litigation. There are a few brave white citizens that will come forward on Mr. Mohiuddin's behalf but I’m not interested in leaking their names to the press."
View the full complaint against Apache Junction here:
This story has been updated with additional information about the court's decision to deny a temporary restraining order against Apache Junction.