West Hartford Police held a hearing Wednesday to give Los Imperios the opportunity to present evidence about why the establishment’s entertainment license should not remain revoked.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove presided over a hearing Wednesday afternoon regarding the status of Los Imperios’ entertainment license and plans to render a decision later this week regarding whether a revocation of the establishment’s entertainment license will be upheld following what police have indicated are continued violations.
The hearing, which lasted 23 minutes, was attended by Gove, Asst. Chief Robert McCue, and Deputy Corporation Counsel Kimberly Boneham, as well as attorney Rodvald Jones who represented the interests of Los Imperios. The establishment’s owner, Ernesto Leon, was unable to attend. Jones said Leon “had to attend to a family matter.”
This was the second time Los Imperios had a hearing with police to discuss the violations. On July 12, Jones and Leon met with representatives of the West Hartford Police and Boneham to discuss what at that time was a 15-day suspension of the license due to what police said were three violations.
During the time the license was suspended, Los Imperios continued to have a DJ – in defiance of the suspension – and that action constituted additional violations of the entertainment ordinance resulting in fines as well as, after the fifth violation, notice from Gove that the license would be revoked.
Under the terms of the entertainment ordinance, Los Imperios is given the opportunity to request a hearing within 10 days, and that action acts as a stay, halting any suspension or revocation as long as the hearing is held within 30 days.
In his notification to Los Imperios, Gove had tentatively scheduled a hearing date for Aug. 8. While Los Imperios requested a hearing within 10 days, Jones could not attend on that date, and Gove said that a mutually agreeable date could not be reached within 30 days. That triggered a lapse in the stay, according to the ordinance, so the revocation went into effect on Aug. 30.
To start off the hearing, Gove read a statement detailing the current status of Los Imperios’ entertainment license and the violations that have taken place since the beginning of 2017.
Even though the revocation had gone into effect, and Leon had been advised, Gove said that Los Imperios had a DJ last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights – on Aug. 24, 25, and 26. “Mr. Leon continues to ignore our suspension and revocation notices,” Gove said.
Jones maintained, as he did at the July 12 hearing, that while Los Imperios accepts blame for the first violation of the entertainment ordinance, which occurred in January 2017 when music was played several minutes later than 30 minutes prior to closing, the second violation should not have constituted a violation and therefore the initial 15-day suspension never should have been made.
According to police, the second violation of the entertainment ordinance involved an incident on May 14, when what was referred to as a “brawl” took place inside the establishment. Several patrons were reportedly hit and police said that Los Imperios’ security guard could not stop the incident from escalating.
In the May 14, incident, police, who were across the street at the gas station, were notified of the incident by the sister of one of the men who was assaulted, and Gove also told Leon that when officers attempted to find him to conduct their investigation, they were told he had “just left” and no one else on the premises was able to assist in review of surveillance video.
Jones maintained that the May 14 incident was reported under the terms of the ordinance, while according to police, it should have been reported by Los Imperios management, security, or staff.
The language of the ordinance states that: “All fights, disturbances, violence or any other violation of law shall be reported to the police immediately by the licensee or employees of the establishment.”
“That is our point of contention, which would lead to the number of subsequent violations if it were a valid violation,” Jones said. The way the ordinance is being interpreted is that Leon or security did not contact anyone, he said.
The “plain language” in the ordinance “doesn’t require such a call or notification to the police. I think that’s what we really have to hone in on, the fact that the plain language of the ordinance, and in this case the plain language of the ordinance should not be deviated,” Jones said at the hearing.
Jones then handed out photocopies of the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the word “report,” highlighting several iterations of the definition that would support his case that the incident that led to the second violation was “reported,” such as the definition “to give an account of.”
After McCue questioned Jones for further clarification of his assertion, Boneham asked, “So what you’re saying is the subsequent violations aren’t [violations] because the second one wasn’t?” Jones said that was what he was saying.
“My position here isn’t to quibble about terms, it’s just what the plain language of the ordinance is,” Jones said. He said that Los Imperios continues to be willing to work with the town and he thinks “there can be real solutions” by working together rather than having an adversarial approach.
Jones added that an abatement plan had been completed and was ready to be presented as a response to notification of the second violation. “However, we believe that if it had been provided it would have been an admission of fault,” Jones said.
McCue said had not been clearly communicated to police, who were still waiting for the plan to be submitted. “The first we learned we weren’t getting an abatement plan was when we didn’t get an abatement plan,” McCue said.
Jones said that if Los Imperios’ owner thought the second offense was valid, “he would have taken ownership.”
McCue also noted that Los Imperios had an agreement with the Liquor Commission that required them to have a video surveillance system up and working, but that video has not always be available when police have needed to review it, most recently in an incident on Aug. 18 when a man was assaulted and rendered unconscious in the bar area.
Jones said that the video system purchased by Leon “was supposed to be a state-of-the-art system,” and that although it malfunctions that doesn’t happen all of the time.
West Hartford Police continue to assign private duty detail to Los Imperios on each night there is a DJ, at a cost of $1,362 per night for two officers and cruisers. Los Imperios has refused the detail, and as a result the establishment has been fined $250 for each refusal. Police have remained on the scene anyway.
The chief is required to review the effectiveness of the private duty detail every four weeks, and Gove said he just renewed it for another four weeks because the presence of the officers has led to a decrease in complaints.
Gove and Boneham said that Los Imperios has not paid anything for the detail, the $250 fines for each refusal of the detail, or the $150 fines for each violation of the entertainment ordinance.
Gove said that he will make his decision later this week regarding reinstatement of Los Imperios’ entertainment license.
Without the license in place, Los Imperios is still permitted to operate as a restaurant and even serve alcohol, but is not allowed to have a DJ or live entertainment.
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