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Liquor Issues

by Fern Shen9:21 pmFeb 1, 20140

Prostitution and other allegations, but no police officer to testify

Above: A hearing about alleged prostitution at Baltimore’s Club Pussycat had to be postponed because the Liquor Board sent the summons to the wrong police district.

The Liquor Board had several serious violations to consider, involving alleged prostitution at two bars on The Block: The Club Pussycat and The Circus Bar.

“Dancer solicited undercover police officer for sexual intercourse; dancer exposed herself to undercover police officer,” according to the Community Law Center’s write-up of the allegations about the Circus Bar on its Booze News blog post about the December 5 hearing.

But the board had to postpone the cases because of its own mistake – they had sent the summons to the wrong police district.

The police officer who had been at the bars and witnessed the violation – the cop who had been solicited, basically – was never notified of the Liquor Board hearing and was not present to testify.

This is the explanation offered by the police officer who did appear, according to the account written up on Booze News by lawyer-blogger Rebecca Lundberg Witt. Both cases were postponed.

It wasn’t just establishments on The Block, Baltimore’s adult entertainment district, benefiting from the no-show police phenomenon. A similar problem with police in the case of an East Baltimore establishment, El Antro, resulted in charges being dismissed.

No Officer Present

The police officer who witnessed the alleged events at El Antro in October – drinking taking place outside the establishment and a patron assaulting another patron with a knife – was not present at the Dec. 5 hearing.

“The officer present at the hearing was merely the author of the police report. He did not witness an assault nor patrons drinking alcohol in front of the establishment,” attorney Sean R. Malone had protested on behalf of his client, licensee Rory Yanes.

The incident described in the police report, according to Witt’s account, was dramatic.

“A patron at the establishment was assaulted and chased by a Hispanic male with a knife on October 5, 2013. The suspect, Mr. Ramirez Lopez, was apprehended and identified by the victim, but the police did not find the knife.”

In the end, though, the board voted unanimously to dismiss the charge, technically a Rule 3.12 violation: “Licensees shall operate their establishments in such a manner as to avoid disturbing the peace, safety, health, quiet and general welfare of the community.”

Lack of Comprehensive Procedures

How did the board not manage to have the proper police officer present in these cases?

The harsh audit report last year that criticized the Liquor Board for a number of problems did not specifically mention “summonsing procedure,” Witt points out, but it did note the board’s lack of comprehensive policies and procedures to provide structure to various Board processes.

El Antro did have one violation that stuck that day. The bar, located in the 4000 block of E. Lombard St., had been charged with failing to produce employment records for the security agent who was present. All they came up with was a photocopy of his identification card, Witt wrote.

Lawyer Malone, of Harris Jones & Malone, “attempted to argue that the security guard was an independent contractor, not an employee,” Witt noted.

Fogleman wasn’t buying it, noting that the security guard was working at the bar during the employer’s work hours and some records should have been accessible.

The board assessed a $1,500 fine, noting that the bar lacked records for security staff two and a half years earlier and that the establishment had had three violations within three years, Witt wrote, taking down the chairman’s final words:

“Clean up the books. Your record is atrocious. If you come back again and I’m here, I’m going to vote to revoke your license.”

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