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Regals' liquor license in jeopardy

April 21, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Hagerstown Police Department complaints about a downtown bar and restaurant, which was the site of a March stabbing, could cost the establishment its liquor license.

During a hearing before the Washington County Board of License Commissioners on Wednesday, city police officers said the patrons of Regals Restaurant & Lounge at 12-14 N. Jonathan St. are drunk and unruly when they leave the establishment at closing time and congregate in a nearby parking lot.

Police included reports about a March 20 stabbing and a fight that followed in their complaint to the Liquor Board, according to a letter from the board to the owners of Regals.

Bethesda, Md.-lawyer Robin Ficker, who accompanied Regals' owners John R. and Fran M. Sandridge to the Liquor Board hearing on Wednesday, said his clients were being unfairly targeted by police because they are black.

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He said the Sandridges are not responsible for the unpredictable actions of those who assaulted and stabbed a man in their establishment. Nor can they control the actions of people once they leave Regals.

Police and the Sandridges agreed that some patrons are loud and difficult to move along once they go outside.

Similar complaints last year prompted the board to put Regals on a six-month probation, which began Nov. 10.

Police testifying at Wednesday's hearing said the situation often brings them to Regals at closing time. At times they have temporarily closed the street in front of Regals to traffic so patrons will not be struck.

The Sandridges and their daughter, who also testified, said police overreacted to the crowds and did not need to block traffic.

"I feel and the owners have the feeling that there's an OWB aspect to this - owning while black," Ficker said.

Most of Regals' patrons are black and most city police officers are white, Ficker said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Dale J. Jones said race was "definitely not" an issue in this case, and city police bring complaints against many establishments based on complaints and incidents.

One of the women involved in the March 20 fight had been drinking and was under 21 years old, according to police testimony. No evidence was presented to show that the woman consumed alcohol at Regals.

In summary comments, John Salvatore, the board's attorney, said there was ample evidence of problems outside Regals regardless of whether the owners were responsible for the actions of their patrons.

Salvatore said board members may revoke a liquor license to promote the peace and safety of the community around a business.

In his closing statements to the board, Ficker said the police and the Sandridges should meet to see if a solution can be worked out.

"There's got to be a solution that falls short of closing (the establishment)," Ficker said. He said revoking the liquor license would effectively close the business.

The three-member Board of License Commissioners has 30 days to inform the Sandridges of its decision.

Board Chairman Donald L. Mellott expected the decision to be made within two weeks.

The board can dismiss the complaint, suspend or revoke the Sandridges' liquor license, and/or fine the couple up to $2,500, board officials said.

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