Hang Ten, the Flagler Beach oceanfront restaurant that opened a year ago despite the pandemic, under the name Jimmy’s Hang Ten, and that has been plagued by a series of setbacks since, has closed permanently.
Jayne Harris, the sole owner since mid-July, announced the closure “with an extremely heavy and broken heart” in a one-paragraph message on the restaurant’s Facebook page late Sunday night or early this morning. “Many of you know that the past 4 months have been extremely challenging for me and my staff at Hang Ten. I have been working tirelessly to overcome multiple challenges in running Hang Ten, but ultimately they proved to be insurmountable and I therefore have no option other than to close effective immediately,” she wrote.
The restaurant and bar at 1112 South Oceanshore Boulevard, immediately north of the Topaz motel, dealt with the difficulties of the pandemic before James Harris, who had co-owned the bar with his wife, was arrested on July 3 on charges of molesting his stepdaughter. He has been in jail since. James and Jayne Harris established the business on Oct, 27, 2020, according to state Division of Corporations records. Less than two weeks after James’s arrest, Jayne on July 16 amended the incorporation papers to reflect that she was the sole owner.
Then a different set of problems emerged: code enforcement issues with the city over noise, music permits and insufficient bathroom accommodations that had led to the installation of what residents complained were permanent portable bathrooms outside the business. On top of that, a city commissioner reported complaints that the business was exceeding its permitted capacity–a reflection of its local popularity on one hand, but, if true, a violation of code on the other. The Flagler Beach City Commission two weeks ago took a hard line, starting with the bathroom issue.
“A couple of us have comments and concerns about this particular topic,” Commission Chairman Eric Cooley told City Manager William Whitson, who had come to the meeting prepared to answer the concerns. Whitson said the portable toilets were cited by the city’s code enforcement department as a violation. The violation was written in James Harris’s name, which seemed to created a problem, though it was written in May, well before his arrest. Before his arrest James Harris had planned to add a second floor to the restaurant, which also raised concerns over the lack of parking or bathroom accommodations. The current permit allowed the business to have 50 to 149 seats.
“We have been in contact by phone with an individual who allegedly is in process of a renovation plan, adding two restrooms to the facility which will bring them into compliance,” the city’s Rick McFadden, its building official, said, even as the city was moving to set the code enforcement violation case before a magistrate. Only recently “someone did come in and submit an application for us to sign for an increase of the seating to 160. I stopped that, because they do not have the facilities to accommodate what they have now.”
“So we’re allowing a business to run without a valid LBTR,” Commissioner Deborah Phillips said, referring to the acronym for local business tax receipt. The business did have the document, but “nothing to show a legal change of ownership,” Drew Smith, the city’s attorney, said. Even then, the city has no right to shut down a business for lack of a business tax receipt–which is just a tax, not a permit to run the business. “It may be changing hands now but until that is legally effected, code enforcement has to go after who legally owns it, who’s legally operating it.” (State corporate documents indicate the legal change, however.)
The commission seemed very confused about who owned the business, though legally there was no confusion, at least according to Division of Corporations registrations: Jayne Harris had always owned it with her husband, and since mid-July, she owned it on her own, according to state documents. “So if it is to husband and wife, or from husband and wife, to just wife, then she would still be responsible regardless of that change in ownership,” Smith said.
But as recently as two weeks ago, McFadden was saying that the restaurant was moving ahead with plans for new bathroom facilities. He said the portables could have been used for 90 days, not more, but that the business could have been removing them for a couple of days and bringing them back for another 90 days, which commissioners found deceptive.
Commissioner Ken Bryan was categorical: “This is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “I went down there to the facility next door. They charge from $220 to $400 a night. If I go down there, spend $400 a night and walk out of the room to a nice pool, and I see somebody coming out of the bathroom like I did today, with–never mind–I don’t know what to say. I mean, I feel so sorry for these folks but I feel sorry for us as a board trying to make decisions in compliance with doing the right thing, and we have our hands tied by the state? This is ridiculous, we have to be able to do something.”
Cooley raised yet another problem: “We have a business that potentially is operating under bad faith and not following the permit that they were given for outdoor music, which is driving the crowd, which is driving the restaurant problem, and then all of its compounded off of that,” he said. “This business is clearly in violation of the outdoor permit.” But no such citation had been written, the city attorney cautioned Cooley.
“I know that I filed a complaint myself personally,” Whitson said. “That was looked into and the music was turned down at that time. It was on a Sunday evening. Other than that I’m not aware of anything.” Commissioners were interested in directing the police department to investigate the business’ noise readings in order to issue a citation, “because we can’t just sit here with our hands tied or not do something, that’s totally not acceptable,” Bryan said.
“We’re setting a precedent for our community of how you can break the rules and get away with it,” Mayor Suzie Johnston said. But McFadden said the city was doing all it legally could. So commissioners wanted someone to drive by Hang Ten every day and log whether portable bathrooms were there or not.
The restaurant had been known as Jimmy’s Hang Ten. After Harris’s arrest, it became Hang Ten. Today, the wooden circular sign up front was bare, nameless.
Meanwhile, the case against James Harris is–for now–making its way to trial.
Harris, 60, faced two charges when originally arrested: lewd and lascivious molestation involving a child younger than 12, and lewd and lascivious conduct involving a child younger than 16. The first charge is a felony punishable by life in prison, the other is a second degree felony. When the State Attorney’s office filed its charging information on July 16, it added a “direct” charge, meaning that through the State Attorney’s investigation, it found evidence to add one or more charges (the prosecutor’s office can still add further charges). That one is a molestation charge involving a child between 12 and 16, another second degree felony. All three charges relate to the same girl, who had been in Harris’s custody for 11 years.
The girl, who’d allegedly been enduring Harris’s assaults for many years and knew his routine, finally managed to video record him with her phone as eh masturbated over her and she pretended to be asleep, then with her biological father took the video to authorities, who launched the investigation that rapidly led to Harris’s arrest. The girl reported Harris first began assaulting her when she was 10. Harris denies it, and said the only instance when he acted inappropriately was the single instance the girl recorded–a claim that begs the question that would be at the core of the prosecution’s arguments in court: why then would the girl have been recording him, if not because of prior instances?
On the initial charges, Circuit Judge Chris France set bond at $50,000 on the second degree felony and no bond on the life felony. Bond was also denied on the charge filed by the state. Harris filed a motion to try to get out of jail on a conditional release plan, arguing that he is indigent. The prosecution–the case is being prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark–filed its own motion to deny release, arguing that “there are no conditions of release reasonably sufficient to protect the community from the risk of physical harm to persons.” On Aug. 3, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins ruled in favor of the state and denied Harris bond. He remains at the Flagler County jail. Harris initially was assigned a public defender. He has since hired Tim Pribisco, a St. Augustine attorney.
The case is in its pre-trial phase, with depositions scheduled in early January. The next pre-trial is on Nov. 10.