Business Government Police/Fire

Town of West Hartford Files Legal Complaint Against Los Imperios and Property Owner

Los Imperios, 904 Farmington Ave., West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton
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The complaint, among other requests, orders Los Imperios to pay more than $76,000 in expenses incurred by the Town of West Hartford for providing police detail, to comply with town ordinances, and to stop operating as a nightclub.

By Ronni Newton

The Town of West Hartford has been working within the scope of its entertainment ordinance to ensure that Los Imperios, located at 904 Farmington Ave., is operating safely and complying with local as well as state statutes, but following continued violations of town ordinances, including defiance of Police Chief Tracey Gove’s revocation of the establishment’s entertainment ordinance, a complaint has been filed in Connecticut Superior Court.

The complaint is seeking a permanent injunction, but also requested is a temporary injunction allowing the complaint to be heard by a judge “ex parte” in advance of a scheduled hearing in court.

The complaint seeks to have Los Imperios immediately remit the $76,252 the town has incurred for police detail through Oct. 2, 2017, as well as all other penalties which it has been assessed for failure to comply with Town of West Hartford code.

Despite the revocation of Los Imperios’ entertainment license, Gove noted in a Sept. 20 2017, letter to owner Ernesto Leon, a copy of which has been obtained by We-Ha.com, that police detail will continue to be provided and the need for the detail will be reviewed again in four weeks.

West Hartford Police and Deputy Corporation Counsel Kimberly Boneham held a hearing on Aug. 30, to provide Los Imperios with the opportunity to present evidence regarding why its entertainment license should not be revoked. On Aug. 31, Gove issued his decision upholding the revocation.

“After the revocation hearing, we continue to see non-compliance from Mr. Leon as he continues to provide DJ entertainment,” Gove said Tuesday. “This is a continued breach of the agreement he signed in order to obtain the entertainment license.” 

In addition, Gove said that in 2017 alone there have been approximately 80 noise complaints filed by neighbors of Los Imperios.

The complaint and other documents, filed Oct. 2 on behalf of the Town of West Hartford and Police Chief Tracey Gove, name Los Imperios owners Ernesto Leon and Guillermina Marquez as well as the owner of the 904 Farmington Ave. premises, Preston Ratliff II, Kusum Shah, and Kinjal R. Shah of LISARAJ LLC, as defendants.

General allegations made in the complaint concern the “safety of its citizenry” as every municipality’s top priority. The document notes that until several days ago – when on Oct. 1, 2107, the country’s worst single day mass shooting took place in Las Vegas – the worst single day mass shooting occurred in a crowded Orlando nightclub.

“The Orlando shooting was noted as we continue to see violence in and immediately around the establishment,” Gove said. “We want to deter any future violence that we have experienced in the past including gunfire, fights and assaults. We do not want to see an escalation – or, for that matter, a continuation,” he said.

“Every municipality’s top priority is the safety of its citizenry. When faced with threats to those citizens, whether through violence, noise or calls for police service, a municipality is compelled to take action to safeguard its citizens,” the complaint reads. “No one knows when what seems only to be noise is or becomes something far more deadly.”

The complaint states that Los Imperios “has presented a persistent threat to the West Hartford community by being the site of shootings, assaults or fistfights, drug use, and minors consuming alcoholic beverages” – occurrences which are not typically associated with a restaurant – “and are far more consistent with the negative secondary effects of a nightclub, which West Hartford does not permit.”

There are five specific counts made in the complaint: that Los Imperios has allowed public nuisances to occur and thereby has become a public nuisance, that the establishment has multiple violations of its entertainment license, that by violating the entertainment license Los Imperios has committed breach of contract, that the business obtained its entertainment permit “by fraud,” and that the building owner failed to enforce compliance with the lease.

Some of the “public nuisance” occurrences noted in the complaint were fistfights, including an incident in August 2017 when a man was assaulted and found unconscious and bleeding on the dance floor inside Los Imperios.

The complaint states that there have also been cases involving gunshots fired by patrons of the establishment, marijuana use, noise complaints, and other incidents required to be immediately reported to police under the terms of the entertainment license but which were not properly reported according to police. In the suspension/revocation hearings, Los Imperios’ attorney Rodvald Jones did acknowledge that fights had taken place, but he took issue with the claim that they had not been properly “reported.”

Also creating public nuisance, according to the complaint, was the fact that Los Imperios failed to comply with laws regarding service of alcohol to minors. Examples noted were an incident on March 19, 2016, when a minor paid a cover charge and was served a mixed drink; on March 31, 2017, when a Los Imperios bartender served another minor two Corona beers; on June 3, 2017, when two minors were served beer; and on July 27, 2017, when “Los Imperios served yet another minor alcohol.”

As a result of some of these violations, from Sept. 11-Sept. 13, for the second time in the past year, Los Imperios had its liquor license suspended by the State Liquor Control Commission. Both suspensions were during times when the establishment does little business, the complaint notes.

In addition, in a letter to Leon from Gove dated Sept. 20, it was noted that Los Imperios failed to properly post the notice of the most recent liquor license suspension, and that resulted in yet another referral to the Liquor Control Commission.

Los Imperios has completely disregarded the suspension and revocation of its entertainment license, continuing to have DJ entertainment on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, the complaint states.

Under the terms of the town’s entertainment license, Gove determined that “due to violence, noise complaints at or related to Los lmperios, and Los Imperios’ impact on police coverage throughout the Town of West Hartford,” a private duty detail of two officers was required. That detail has continued to be refused by Los Imperios.

As of Oct. 2, 2017, the complaint notes, the private duty bill is “over $76,252,” none of which has been paid to date by Los Imperios.

In addition, Los Imperios continues to operate as “a nightclub, dance hall or bar,” despite the fact that those businesses are not permitted under West Hartford code.

“Los Imperios has repeatedly violated the ordinance and the prohibition on cover charges, bottle service, VIP service, cover charges and identification checks to enter the restaurant … In fact, on one occasion, after officers asked defendant Leon about the cover charge, he confessed that he needed the cover charge to pay the DJ $1,200 for performing that night,” the complaint states.

The town has previously sought, and been awarded, injunctive relief for some of those operations that are in violation of its ordinances.

“By operating as a nightclub …. Los lmperios violates the community’s public rights. Los Imperios creates or permits danger and causes injury, whether it be law violations, violence, or noise, to those inside of or in close proximity to Los Imperios; it has operated this way for more than a year, making the danger and harm continuous; acting as a nightclub, it unreasonably and unlawfully violates state and municipal laws; and its actions and inactions have injured the community’s peace and safety,” the complaint states.

The second count filed in the complaint is for violation of the town’s entertainment license. Los Imperios agreed, when it received an entertainment license to “abide by all conditions required” in the town’s entertainment ordinance, but the complaint notes the multiple violations of those conditions.

“Despite agreeing in its license application to ‘abide by all conditions required,’ Los lmperios has failed to abide by the suspensions and revocation of its entertainment license, has refused and failed to pay for the private duty police detail, failed to provide an abatement plan as repeatedly requested, and failed to comply with the West Hartford entertainment license ordinance,” the complaint states.

Los Imperios is also in breach of contract by failing to comply with the entertainment ordinance, the complaint states.

The establishment also obtained its entertainment license “by fraud,” the complaint alleges.

“Los Imperios promised the Town of West Hartford that it would not operate a nightclub, and promised the Liquor Control Board that it would, among other things, install and maintain a video system that shall be operational at all times. Instead, Los Imperios is operating as a nightclub, and has installed an ineffective video system. It is ineffective because every time the police request a video, Los lmperios states that no one is able to retrieve the video, or if the video is retrievable, the video is unclear and unhelpful,” the complaint states.

Finally, the complaint alleges that Los Imperios failed to comply with the terms of its lease with LISARAJ, specifically the requirement “to observe and comply with all laws, ordinances, rules and regulations.”

“As evidenced by the shootings, violence and noise violations stated above, defendant Los lmperios has not complied with the lease agreement, has permitted numerous nuisances as defined in C.G.S. §47a-32 and the common law, and has violated state and municipal laws,” the complaint states.

However, LISARAJ permitted Los Imperios, as well as its previous tenant Shish LLC, to operate as a nightclub and has been named a defendant in the suit in part because it has “caused, contributed to, and permitted its co-defendants to create and permit a public nuisance, and to violate the West Hartford Code, the Connecticut General Statutes and Connecticut Agencies Regulations.”

Relief requested in the complaint, in addition to payment of expenses for police detail and code violations, includes a “temporary and permanent restraining order prohibiting the defendant Los Imperios from engaging in any further public nuisances, violations of the State of Connecticut General Statutes and Agency Regulations, and/or the Town of West Hartford Municipal Code.”

If not granted, the town asserts that “there is a substantial probability that the alleged harm will continue, and that that harm will be irreparable.”

The town requests, in the complaint, that Los Imperios comply with the police chief’s orders, including the terms under which it can operate without an entertainment license, and requests three calendar year’s worth of financial records.

The complaint also requests that Los Imperios hire, at its expense, security detail approved by the chief of police, installation of a video system “with high quality imagery that is easily retrievable, and requests “stopping all nightclub activities, and operating only as a restaurant.”

As for the next step, Gove said, “We will continue to monitor and cite for violations/non-compliance while we await the court’s response.”

A message was left for Jones, Los Imperios’ attorney, requesting comment on the complaint but he has not yet responded.

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