An official warning letter has been sent to the owner of Los Imperios by West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove following Friday’s incident, and there are also ongoing discussions with the Liquor Control Commission and an ongoing court case.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Police are working within their authority to curb disturbances associated with Los Imperios Restaurant and Lounge, and following an incident early in the morning of Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, have taken official action under the terms of the town’s new entertainment ordinance.
“The entertainment ordinance doesn’t allow me to walk in there and revoke the liquor or entertainment license,” West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove said.
Gove said he is very much aware of neighborhood concerns regarding Los Imperios. “The residents have been great and the police department is putting efforts forward as best we can,” he said.
In addition to stationing plain clothes officers there on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, Gove said that the department has started invoking the entertainment ordinance’s specific penalties.
“It’s a pressing issue for us, but we have to follow the guidelines and rules that have been put in place,” Gove said.
“This has been an incredibly infuriating situation,” West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor said.
Despite the joint letter that she and Gove wrote to the Commissioner of Consumer Protection on Sept. 6, 2016, which resulted in the temporary suspension of Los Imperios’ liquor license until the establishment took steps to promote a safer environment inside and in the surrounding area, “nothing has changed,” Cantor said.
Entertainment Ordinance Compliance
The entertainment ordinance, which was approved by the Town Council in late October, required all establishments that provide entertainment to obtain a license within 30 days, addresses noise and public safety issues inside and within a certain distance of an establishment, and stipulates penalties for violaiton. A warning letter is required to be sent to a business as the first step in enforcement.
Gove sent a letter to Los Imperios owner Ernesto Leon on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, after two patrons who had just left Los Imperios were allegedly involved with the firing of a gun on Farmington Avenue. The two fled the scene were arrested and charged after a short pursuit by police.
In the Jan. 13, 2017 letter, a copy of which has been obtained by We-Ha.com, Gove notes that Los Imperios has been “a source of concern for residents of the neighborhood due to disturbances inside the restaurant, immediately outside the restaurant or as rowdy patrons arrive or leave the establishment.”
Gove stated that this was the “second incident of a handgun being discharged involving patrons leaving your establishment within the last few months.” He also noted that the DJ was still playing music within 30 minutes of closing time, which is in violation of the ordinance.
Gove also listed well over a dozen complaints to which police have responded since the ordinance went into effect in late October. Incidents included yelling, loud music from cars belonging to patrons, fighting, public urination, public consumption of alcohol, and possible drug use. A majority of the listed incidents occurred between 11 p.m. and 1:55 a.m.
According to the letter, a representative of the West Hartford Police Special Investigations Division met with Leon on Dec. 29, 2016, to discuss four complaints that had been made the previous week and to ensure that he was aware of the terms of the entertainment ordinance.
In addition to the reported shot fired on Jan. 13, there were three other incidents reported to police after the Dec. 29 meeting, involving complaints about noise as well as public urination against a tree on Arnold Way.
Gove told Leon in the letter that the repeated incidents “raise strong concerns in the neighborhood and are a threat to public safety concerns.” Gove stated that compliance with the entertainment ordinance is required in order for Los Imperios to retain its entertainment license and avoid mandatory police detail – for which the establishment would be required to pay under the terms of the ordinance.
When reached by phone on Tuesday and asked by We-Ha.com about the gunshot on Jan. 13, Leon responded that it took place “a block and a half away.”
He would not comment on Gove’s letter and said, “You will need to speak with my lawyer,” before hanging up the phone.
If Los Imperios eventually loses its entertainment license, it won’t shut down the business, Gove said. “It would remove their ability to provide entertainment, which would likely affect their business.”
Liquor permits are not issued by municipalities and suspension of those permits is within the purview of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, not the police department.
Gove said that following the Jan. 13, 2017, firing of a handgun by a Los Imperios patron, he was immediately in touch with the State Liquor Control Commission.
“I also have reached out to the commissioner to report that safety around the establishment has not improved,” Cantor said.
When asked about the latest incident, Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said in an email, “We are working closely with municipal officials regarding issues with Los Imperios in West Hartford. DCP routinely works closely with local police and other officials in the state to do what we can within our authority to help resolve incidents of inappropriate and unsafe behavior related to establishments holding liquor permits in Connecticut.”
Harris added that if residents have “concerns, questions, or information they wish to share with us, we encourage them to contact our Liquor Control Division at 860-713-6200 or [email protected].”
In early September, after scores of reported disturbances, 11 fights, assaults, and an incident where 13 shots were fired right outside its 904 Farmington Ave. location, Los Imperios had its liquor permit suspended by the Liquor Control Commission. The permit was restored within a short period of time.
Legal Action for Zoning Ordinance Violations
In addition to seeking compliance with the entertainment ordinance and working with the Department of Consumer Protection on the establishment’s liquor license, West Hartford has also sought an injunction against Los Imperios for zoning and other violations.
The injunction is needed to allow for an increase in fines for violation of zoning ordinances from the current level of $150.
West Hartford Corporation Counsel Kimberly Boneham said that she will present oral arguments before Hartford Superior Court Judge A. Susan Peck on Jan. 25, 2017, regarding the issue of bottle service at Los Imperios.
In November, the court granted the town’s request for an injunction regarding cover charges and restriction of entry to only patrons over age 21. Citations for those violations now carry a fine of $500 rather than $150. Boneham said that to best of her knowledge Los Imperios has not had any violations in those areas since the fines were increased.
Bottle service has continued in violation of West Hartford’s ordinance 177-2, which defines the term “restaurant” and specifically states that restaurants are prohibited from “sale of alcohol or spirits by the bottle to a patron or patrons.” she said.
The oral arguments next week “should be the last step for this complaint,” Boneham said. She expects a ruling to follow shortly after the appearance.
Cantor said that ongoing incidents regarding Los Imperios are of major concern to her and to the Town Council. “The town manager and Council are in regular communication with all departments and are fully supportive of all these actions and continue to look at other possible remedies,” she said.
“We continue to explore any and all options at our disposal to ensure the safety of our residents and visitors,” said Gove.
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