Police get tougher on bars overserving patrons who get arrested

Shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 14, a man left La Bodega Tapas Bar, 3005 Lyndale Ave. S. Apparently angered about having to leave at bar time, he broke the front door window.

Owner Maurilio Purpura called the police to report the damage. He told police that the man had been at the restaurant for several hours.

Police never caught the suspect. But they knew where to find another offender. A $500 ticket was issued - to Purpura, for overserving alcohol.

Bar owners citywide will feel more pain from departing patrons who do something stupid.

Minneapolis Police Sgt. Kent Warnberg said the city is issuing more overserving tickets to deter alcohol-related violence. Warnberg, who works in license inspections, reviews police reports and flags those where officers cite alcohol as a possible contributing factor.

La Bodega staff admitted to the responding officer that the window-busting patron was overserved, he said.

The overserving effort began this winter, part of a larger city effort begun 18 months ago. The city issues administrative fines for a range of liquor and gambling code violations. The tickets include: litter within 100 feet of a liquor establishment ($100); sales to obviously intoxicated persons ($250); and sale of alcohol to a minor ($500).

The overserving tickets have raised business community concerns.

Dario Anselmo, owner of downtown's Fine Line and president of the Warehouse District Business Association, said the city should balance competing interests. It must reduce alcohol-related violence but avoid penalizing responsible small businesses with more fees and regulations, he said.

Purpura appealed his ticket and lost. He paid $500 for a new window and the $250 overserving ticket (the ordinance amount, not the $500 on the initial citation.)

Asked what led police to believe the suspect was drunk, Purpura said, "I don't know."

He said the suspect was in a party of six that had been in the restaurant for two hours, racking up a $90 food-and-drink tab. "Do you think they were intoxicated?" he asked rhetorically. "A Scotch costs $8."

Purpura seemed resigned to the ticket, saying the police were doing their job.

"I am against violence as well," he said. "I am against overserving people. One of the reasons I keep my price so high in my restaurant is for this, for drinks. I don't want people to come here and get wasted."

Warnberg said the overserving tickets won't stop alcohol-related incidents, but it would help raise awareness of the problem. It would make the areas around bars safer for everybody: the police, the general public and the businesses.

"Overserving has always been against the law," Warnberg said. "We have taken a stronger emphasis lately because of what comes from it - drunk driving, assaults, accidents. We want to do what little we can do to stop overserving."

A new approach

Downtown's civilian Community Crime-Prevention Specialist Luther Krueger, a Lyndale resident, deserves some credit for jumpstarting overserving enforcement, Warnberg said.

Krueger said city liquor licenses mandate that bars not overserve patrons. Police know that some bars overserve, but those problems did not trigger a formal city review, called a Technical Advisory Committee.

The city wanted a more aggressive approach.

Late last summer, police, licensing and the city attorney's office staff sat down to develop protocols for arresting officers to determine if overserving contributed to an incident, he said.

Warnberg said that if a problem appears alcohol-related, street officers now do a better job of asking people "Where were you drinking? How many did you have to drink?"

He added, "In some instances, I can't determine exactly what bar the people were at or how much they were served - so then I do not write a citation."

The fine is civil, not criminal. That means the city has a lower standard of proof. It doesn't have to show the bar was responsible beyond a reasonable doubt; it just needs to show "clear and convincing" evidence, Krueger said.

A small start

In a little over two months, Warnberg said he has issued seven overserving tickets based on information gleaned from police reports and follow-up interviews. It is a small number, given the amount of alcohol poured citywide.

In addition to La Bodega, Warnberg said the city has cited Rick's Cabaret, 300 3rd St.; Halek's Bar, 2024 Washington Ave. N.; Red Sea Bar, 320 Cedar Ave. S.; Vegas Lounge, 965 Central Ave. NE; and Brothers Bar, 430 1st Ave. N.

Haleks, Red Sea and Brothers have appealed; and those cases have not yet been decided. Vegas and Rick's appealed their tickets and lost, Warnberg said. A seventh bar appealed its ticket and got it dismissed. (The officer did not show up to testify because of a communications breakdown, he said.)

According to police reports, officers responded to the Vegas Lounge Jan. 4 when an apparently intoxicated woman fought with staff after they told her to leave.

How drunk was she?

Warnberg said the woman threatened the arresting officers that she would defecate in the squad car if they arrested her. They did, and she did. ("If this lady were not drunk, I do not believe she would have," Warnberg said.)

A Vegas official did not return a call.

The Rick's ticket stemmed from an early morning incident Jan. 12 when two men left the Cabaret to share a cab. According to a police report, they did not know each other. One man threatened the other, "and then assaulted him in the cab, breaking his eyeglasses and poking him in the eye."

The police report said the suspect was "drunk," "violent," "mad" and using foul language. Warnberg talked to the arresting officer to get more information about where the men had been drinking, then wrote the ticket.

Rick's bar manager declined to comment for this story. According to the Minneapolis City Attorney's office, the man involved in the cab fight had not been charged as of March 21.

CODEFOR for bars

For years, Krueger has compiled bar-related police reports and emailed a list weekly to all bar owners. Items include everything from auto thefts and valet zone violations to assaults.

Krueger calls it an extension of the city's CODEFOR crime system, which helps police and other interested parties track problem areas.

Starting in October or November, he began tracking whether the police calls to bars - for incidents such as disorderly conduct, obstruction or assaults - appear alcohol-related. He forwards the list to police licensing on a daily basis to review for possible overserving tickets.

Krueger also adds the information on alcohol-related problems to the bar owners' weekly reports. The new comments column includes "AP drunk" for arrested party drunk, or "victim drunk."

He puts the comments in bright red letters. He will add "bar refused entry to intoxicated person" in blue to give bars "a pat on the back" for doing the right thing.

Any owner with any red comments is expected to call the precinct.

"It does get their attention," Krueger said. "It is basically to give them a wake-up call. We want to nip that stuff in the bud."

Sometimes it is an easy problem to correct, he said. Maybe the bar has new staff that hasn't gone through server training. Maybe the bar can isolate and correct the problem immediately.

"We will go to the bar and say, 'Look, here is your chance,'" Krueger said. "'We won't have to go to a TAC hearing.' Sometimes there is a gray area and we have some discretion. We don't want it to continue."

Krueger focuses on Downtown bars; Warnberg said he tracks down similar information citywide.

A gray area?

The Warehouse District's Anselmo said some bars encourage excess drinking and alcohol-related problems by offering drink specials and how they market themselves. "There needs to be some accountability for these establishments," he acknowledged.

On the other hand, Anselmo said determining when someone is overserved is a gray area. They could have had several drinks at one bar, and then go to another. Even telling if someone is drunk can be difficult.

"Was that person visibly intoxicated when they were served?" Anselmo asked. "Some people can have a good poker face."

Any bar or bartender could make a bad judgment call, he said. If a bar has consistent problems, then it makes sense to have the owners in for a hearing.

The market discourages bars from overserving, Anselmo noted: "The more alcohol overserving problems you have, the more violence you have, the more lawsuits you have, the higher your insurance is."

Anselmo complained city staff had not consulted bar owners on the new program. Krueger and Warnberg said the issue had been raised repeatedly at monthly "Bar Watch" meetings, where bar owners sit down with police, fire, licensing and city attorney staff to discuss common issues.

They said pointedly that if Anselmo were unaware of the program, it was because he had not attended the meetings.

Warnberg said he has heard the argument that overserving is a gray area.

"It is still incumbent upon the business people not to overserve if they feel someone has had too much," he said. "I have heard it many times - 'Oh the guy was perfectly fine. We gave him one drink and he fell off the barstool very, very drunk.' It doesn't happen that way."