FRANKLIN, La – Joe Lee loves to dance in the streets of the French Quarter and take pictures with anyone who cares to sidle up to him for a quick dance.
When the COVID-19 crisis silenced the streets of New Orleans, Lee was left without a place to dance. But that couldn’t keep him still for long.
Lee happily traded Bourbon Street, where he is known as Cowboy Joelee, for the small town streets of Franklin, Louisiana, where he lives.
Clad in his customary cutoff jean shorts, cowboy hat, and button-up shirt tied near the waist, Lee rides his bicycle from his home to downtown Franklin, where he alternates dance moves and deep knee bends every sunny afternoon.
Lee is quick to point out that his public moves aren’t all fun and games. A knee injury forced Lee to retire and close his small business in 2005. Now, he maintains a strict exercise schedule that includes alternating weight lifting and cardio throughout the week.
Some residents of Franklin did not take well to Lee’s dance moves, or to the clothes he wears while dancing and exercising in public. Lee said he wore what he calls “Daisy Dukes” in the 1970s, and he decided to go back to the fashion a few years ago.
“In 2015, December 15, is when my ex-wife moved out of our home,” Lee said. “Before that time I was pretty much dressing conservative. But after being married for 46 years, I thought I would do something a little different, so I started dressing different.”
A Franklin resident left a comment on the Franklin Police Department’s Facebook page decrying Lee’s dance moves, as well as his outfits.
“Chief Beverly thank you for addressing the issues regarding the bike riding cowboy,” the comment reads. “I know his name but refuse to give him any more publicity than he already generates. I sat at Sonic and watched you handle it with the upmost [sic] professionalism. He does not ride for exercise! He is out there for attention.”
Lee says Franklin Police Chief Morris Beverly and other officers from the police department confronted him on multiple occasions. Lee recorded one of those confrontations with Beverly on May 7 across the street from a Sonic restaurant.
During the video, Beverly can be heard addressing Lee by his given name, Lee Joseph Segura.
“I want to introduce myself to you,” Beverly can be heard saying in the video, which Lee posted to his public Facebook account. “My name is Morris Beverly, and I’ve been getting a whole bunch of phone calls on you…So this is what I’m going to ask you to do: I’m going to ask you to not do this and go ahead about your business, or first thing in the morning, I’m going to work on an ordinance so we can arrest you every time you do this.”
After Lee asks Beverly what he was doing wrong and claims that he was only exercising, Beverly disagrees.
“You’re not exercising, sir,” Beverly says in the video. “Not only are you distracting traffic…and I have already told all my officers, if we have a collision or anything, we going to put you down, and you’re going to be civilly liable. Because you’re distracting people, and that’s why I’m getting a whole bunch of phone calls. Because you’re distracting people.”
Later in the video Beverly tells Lee he doesn’t want to see him “jumping and dancing around and stuff like that…you’re going to be dressed like that because some people take offense to that.”
Beverly has not yet responded to questions about his interactions with Lee or if he has filed an ordinance to address Lee’s outdoor dancing and exercising.
Longtime French Quarter bartender Nichole Hottinger took up Lee’s case, posting a short video to Facebook with the hashtag #LetJoeLeeDance.
“He’s a local celebrity/hero to the bartenders in the quarter,” Hottinger said. “I’ve met him several times while bartending in the French Quarter and he is a really amazing man and deserves to be able to express himself however he sees fit.”
Lee said he thinks Chief Beverly is only acting out against him because of the complaints. He said he won’t stop dancing anytime soon, but he will also head straight back to the French Quarter as soon as it opens.
“When I head out to New Orleans, I just love dancing all up and down Bourbon Street and mingling with all the people and taking pictures,” Lee said. “There is no greater Joy than to put a smile on someone’s face”