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[Updated] Los Imperios Violates Entertainment License Suspension

Los Imperios, 904 Farmington Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

[Updated, 6:05 p.m. with comments from Atty. Rodvald Jones] Los Imperios’ attorney said earlier this week that his client objects to the suspension of the entertainment ordinance issued by West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove. After a fourth violation police say the business is now subject to a 30-day suspension, but the establishment’s attorney said early Friday evening that the suspension will be challenged.

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove informed Los Imperios owner Ernesto Leon in writing on Monday that the establishment’s entertainment license would be suspended for 15 days beginning July 18, and on Friday Asst. Chief Robert McCue said the suspension had been violated.

McCue said Friday morning that Los Imperios had a DJ on Thursday night. Under the terms of the suspension, Los Imperios is not permitted to have a DJ or live entertainment from July 18 through Aug. 2.

The activity inside Los Imperios, including the presence of a DJ, was viewed through Facebook Live, McCue said, and by police detail who were on duty and observed the DJ.

Although the crowd was smaller than usual Thursday night, McCue said, the fact that the air conditioning was still not working in the establishment could have been a factor. Police received one phone call from a neighbor registering a complaint.

West Hartford Police detectives also noted Thursday night that was a “heavy odor of marijuana” in the area of the dance floor, and partially consumed marijuana was found discarded in that area, McCue said. “Obviously we can’t let that go on,” he said.

“This is another violation,” McCue said. Because it is Los Imperios’ fourth violation of the terms of the entertainment ordinance passed by the Town Council in October 2016, the establishment is now subject to a 30-day suspension of its entertainment license.

Gove sent another letter to Leon Friday afternoon, informing him of the latest violation, and informing him that Los Imperios’ entertainment license will be again suspended, this time from Aug. 5 through Sept. 4. Leon was also assessed a fine of $150 under the terms of the ordinance.

Leon or his attorney has the right to request a hearing to provide testimony regarding why the suspension should not be imposed, and that hearing must be requested within 10 days of receipt of Gove’s letter, he said.

“I have set the date for a hearing, should you so desire, on August 8, 2017, at 10:00 am,” Gove wrote in the letter.

If Los Imperios continues to use a DJ over the weekend, they will continue to violate the suspension and thereby the terms of the entertainment ordinance.

Additional violations could result in the complete revocation of the license, and Los Imperios would have to wait six months before reapplying, McCue said.

“Please be advised that if you continue to provide DJ entertainment during the period of suspension it will count as your 5th offense and you entertainment license may be subject to complete revocation for a period of at least six months,” Gove informed Leon in the July 21 letter.

Leon’s attorney, Rodvald Jones, returned a call Friday evening in response to a request by We-Ha.com for comment about the latest violation and the suspension.

“This will probably be a recurring thing for quite some time,” Jones said regarding Los Imperios failing to comply with the suspension. “Los Imperios has tried everything in their capacity to work with the Town of West Hartford but found it doesn’t matter,” Jones said.

Jones said that he and his client would like to have the chance for another hearing, but will be asking the chief for it to be rescheduled because he is out of town that week.

Earlier in the week, Jones sent a letter to Gove dated July 18 reiterating his claim that Los Imperios “did ‘report’ the [May 14 and May 26] incidents to the police both orally and written,” and therefore was not in violation of the ordinance. Gove, however, said during the July 12 hearing that in both the May 14 and May 26 incidents, police were contacted, but not by any representatives of Los Imperios.  Although in those cases Los Imperios cooperated with the investigation, Gove did not find acceptable the assertion by Los Imperios that there was “no time to report it.”

Jones also informed Gove in his July 18 letter that the decision to suspend the business’ entertainment license was “racially motivated and in violation of my clients’ constitutional rights.” He and Leon “object vociferously to said suspension,” Jones wrote.

Jones, in his July 18 letter, also claimed that police did not provide him with the requested reports for the May 14 and May 26 incidents.

Gove responded to Jones’ July 18 letter, in a one-page letter dated July 19, and said that he will provide the documents that Jones believes are missing, but since Jones does not dispute that the disturbances took place, “this should not impact the failure to deliver the promised abatement plan, which we have yet to receive.”

Gove did not address the issue of the suspension being racially-motivated, but McCue said “the idea that it is racially motivated is just silly.”

There are no other places in West Hartford where patrons leaving an establishment have fired handguns, much less two incidents, McCue said. “Police are concerned with helping keep the area safe, for patrons and for the neighborhood. There’s a long history there,” he said.

That history of activity surrounding Los Imperios since it opened was also provided to Jones in a 19-page typed document attached to Gove’s July 19 letter – a list which Gove said was “not all-inclusive.”

“It is a unique history for a restaurant in West Hartford. As you can see by the list, the issues at the restaurant seem to exclusively occur during the nights a DJ is present,” Gove wrote.

Jones said late Friday that his client has “done everything necessary but it just falls flat. There is an ugly undercurrent that in our perception has existed for quite some time but I didn’t want to raise it,” he said, until the police “conjured up a term to find my client in violation.”

Jones said that Los Imperios “clearly complied with the terms of that particular section of the ordinance” pertaining to reporting incidents to the police. He did not dispute that Los Imperios violated the ordinance in January by playing music later than a half hour before closing, but said that the town’s assertion that “report” means “call” is “a complete miscarriage of justice.”

Jones said that the suspension will be challenged to the full extent of the law.

“They might as well stop wasting their time,” Jones said. “We’re going to challenge it, in what particular form I don’t know.”

Jones said he didn’t know for sure if his client planned to have a DJ on Friday night or the rest of the weekend, but said it was up to his client and “a fair assumption” that there would be one.

Jones said that Los Imperios wants to be treated like “any other West Hartford establishment that provides music to their customers,” but there’s a difference. Police are always at the establishment, he said, intimidating and harassing the business.

“This is not the way we wanted it to go,” Jones said. “We tried the best that we could with the town but to no avail.”

Gove said that police have made good faith efforts to work collaboratively with Los Imperios, which have not been successful. In addition to failure to provide an abatement plan, and other incidents some of which have been detailed in his 19-page attachment, Gove noted that in October, Leon admitted in court that he had been charging a cover although it is not permitted.

To illustrate a typical situation, of what police deal with on a typical night when there is a DJ, Gove provided a copy of a cruiser video of the crowd leaving Los Imperios at 1 a.m. on Friday, July 14, just after Leon and Jones had their hearing on the suspension. The video shows a rowdy crowd spilling out into the residential area at the intersection of Farmington Avenue and Robin Road.

The video, which has been provided to We-Ha.com by West Hartford Police, can be seen below, with action beginning at about the 1:13 minute mark. Three Los Imperios security officials can be seen in the background.

Please be warned that the video contains profane, graphic, and disturbing language.

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