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Liquor Issues

by Fern Shen11:55 amFeb 12, 20150

Disparity argument no defense for tavern known as troublespot

East Baltimore tavern that neighbors say spawns loitering, drug activity and violence tries out the “Horseshoe defense” before the Liquor Board

Above: Residents say Eric 500, at the corner of Greenmount and North avenues, has caused problems for years.

Attorneys representing licensees before the Liquor Board have some standard arguments to make and last week Edward Smith, Jr. was working his way through several of the classic ones.

“Did you have the contents of the bottle tested at a laboratory?” Smith asked Detective L.C. Greenhill at the February 5 violation hearing.

(Smith’s client, a tavern called Eric 500 at the corner of North and Greenmount avenues, was charged with a violation for selling a bottle of New Amsterdam Peach Vodka to a 19-year-old police cadet in December.)

What proof did the detective have, Smith continued, that the person who sold the alleged vodka from behind the plexiglass window was actually an employee?

Did the detective know where the licensees were that day? Since the owners may not have been present at their establishment at the time of the transaction, Smith continued with a flourish, to hold them responsible would require “a quantum leap in proof!”

What About Horseshoe?

All this according to attorney Rebecca Lundberg Witt, of the Community Law Center, who described the testimony in her blog, Booze News. Recording the dialogue almost every week for going on two years now, Witt has seen all the legal strategies, including this lately popular one Smith put forth:

How many investigations, Smith asked Detective Greenhill, have police made of the Horseshoe Casino, the Ravens stadium and the Orioles stadium?

The question leads to dangerous waters for the commissioners because the agency has not done many at all – as The Brew detailed in its two-part series on intoxication and fighting at the casino.

Open since late August and possessing Baltimore’s only 24-hour-per-day liquor license, the Horseshoe has only been inspected twice, leaving Chairman Thomas Ward, appointed last June, open to allegations of disparate treatment – allegations the liquor lawyers have been recently making with gusto.

To be fair, under Ward’s predecessors (including Smith, a former liquor commissioner himself), the ballparks have also been left largely to self-regulate such matters as liquor sales and crowd control and have seen few Liquor Board visits. But last week’s hearing never got into any of this history.

The board’s deputy executive secretary, Thomas Akras, objected, saying Smith’s points were not relevant to the Eric 500 case. Ward concurred.

Smith also made no headway with the argument that the board violated his client’s constitutional rights by not providing a Korean translator.

Licensees typically bring their own translators if needed. The board had postponed the Eric 500 case a week earlier to give the licensee time to find a translator. But the week had passed and Smith still had not found one and said he never intended to try, on principle. His translator argument was rejected too.

Finally, area residents had their say, testifying that the establishment has been a haven for illegal drug activity, trash and violence for years.

“It’s a disruption to the community. People are loitering constantly. The bar section of the business is never open,” said Ben Lewis, who lives one block away and can see the establishment from his window.

“People drink in public and throw the bottles from their miniatures in his yard,” he said, according to Witt’s account. “We’ve been trying to get them to cooperate with the Eastern District to give their IP address of their security cameras both inside and out,” said Lena Leone, president of the New Greenmount West Community Association.

Leone said the loiterers round the store contribute to violence in the neighborhood, noting a attempted carjacking on January 27, while on the previous day two middle school students were punched and robbed of their cellphones nearby.

Loitering, Public Drinking

When it came time for a decision, Ward noted that the board had found Eric 500 in violation on numerous occasions.

In August, the licensees were fined $1,500 for selling alcohol to a minor. (The commissioners noted this was a second offense.) On September 18, Eric was back on the docket, this time receiving a two-week license suspension and a $3,000 fine for four violations that occurred on two occasions in April.

These cases involved people loitering and drinking from open containers in the vestibule, something Det. Greenhill had witnessed when he went into the establishment in the most recent incident.

Technically operating as a tavern functioning as a liquor store, Eric 500’s patrons typically walk outside with open containers, sit on the stoops of vacant houses and drink there, a police department officer testified at the September 18 hearing.

Also raised that day was the issue of violence connected to the establishment. Commissioner Dana Petersen Moore noted that Eric 500 has been “in the news very much that week” when a loitering issue escalated into a man, Kollin Truss, being beaten by the police at a nearby bus stop, which was caught on camera.

Eric 500’s lawyer that day, former Liquor Board Chairman Stephan W. Fogleman, questioned her statement that the incident began at his client’s tavern. “I don’t know that that’s been definitively determined yet,” he said.

“Detriment to the Community”

At last week’s hearing, the three commissioners unanimously found the establishment in violation, fining licensees Byoung Wook An and Patrick Min $2,500 and suspending the license through April 30.

Ward said the licensee has not taken steps to improve security or work with the community since his last appearance: “He has done nothing.”

Noting that the intersection is a transit hub, Moore said she had seen the loitering herself and agreed with Ward. “Clearly this establishment is a great detriment to the community at large,” she said, “and everyone that crosses thorough there.”

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