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Hooters video leads to dismissal of liquor law violation case

September 16, 2011

Hooters didn’t get busted.

An alleged liquor code violation against Hooters at The Citadel mall was dismissed Friday after the restaurant produced a videotape that two lawyers say refutes what Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Division detectives described in a police report.

“The video contradicts the factual narrative that was presented by the investigating officers in the case. It completely contradicts it,” said attorney Pat Mika, who represents the waitress who was charged with serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron.

The case against the waitress, an 18-year-old single mom who commutes from Pueblo, is pending, but Mika said the City Attorney’s Office plans to dismiss that charge, too.

Hooters, part of an international chain that bills itself as “delightfully tacky yet unrefined,” was up for a suspension and revocation hearing of its liquor license Friday for allegedly serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person June 23. But before the hearing, a city prosecutor  made a motion to dismiss the charge, which was approved by the city’s liquor board.

Anthony Moore, senior prosecuting attorney for the city, said “new evidence” that included the videotape was presented to the City Attorney’s Office this week.

“There was probable cause to issue the violations to begin with,” he said. “However, we determined we did not have the ability to meet our burden of proof before the liquor board based on the totality of evidence that was presented to us this week.”

In a police report, detectives said the patron was “displaying obvious signs of intoxication” when the waitress served him beer and a shot of tequila. One of the detectives reported seeing the patron “stagger and use table chairs for balance.”

But Attorney Vince Linden, who represented Hooters, said the videotape disputes those assertions.

“Just viewing the tape would not have indicated that the person was visibly intoxicated,” Linden said. “Unlike the police report, the person never staggered, never used tables and chairs for assistance.”

Linden said the detectives said the customer was using “loud, boisterous language” and that he appeared visibly intoxicated from their perspective a few feet away.

“That’s all great, but they never had any interaction with him. They never did any field testing,” he said.

“What if I didn’t have that tape? How in the world would you even defend yourself from these allegations?” he asked. “If you didn’t have that videotape to go back in time … it would just be their assertions.”

The supervisor of VNI’s Special Enforcement Unit, Sgt. Bret Poole, said he had not seen the video. But he defended his detectives.

“My understanding is there’s no discrepancies between what’s in the video and the case report,” he said.

But Mika said he questioned the integrity of this and other undercover investigations involving the detectives who filed the charge against Hooters.

“I would hope that this is not simply dropped, that somebody looks into this further,” he said.

The video shows the detectives drinking alcohol, Mika said. Although drinking alcohol doesn’t violate their standard operating procedures, Mika said it could have clouded their judgment.

Worse yet, the detectives left Hooters before the patron and didn’t determine “whether he was driving, whether he was fit to drive,” Mika said.

“I don’t think that for a minute that they believed this individual was intoxicated,” he said. “It was simply a means of justifying whatever expenditures they may have made on liquor and alcohol.”

Poole called that allegation “ridiculous.”

“We have funds from various sources, and there’s nothing out there to say we have to justify the expenditures we make while we’re out there doing our audits,” he said. “We don’t spend very much money in the bars.”

The charge against Hooters could have landed the business in a mountain of trouble.

Last year, Hooters’ liquor license was suspended for 15 days.

Under an agreement with the city, Hooters pleaded guilty to selling alcohol to a minor and no contest to selling alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person.

As part of the deal, 12 days were held in abeyance for a year and the city agreed to let Hooters pay a $533 fine in lieu of serving a suspension for the other three days. When a suspension is held in abeyance, the liquor code can’t be violated or those days must be served. If the violation is serious enough, the license can be revoked.

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