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Tavern owner expects license suspension

March 08, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The owner of the downtown Hagerstown bar Duke's Tavern expects his liquor license to be suspended, he said after a liquor board hearing Wednesday morning.

Duke's owner Peter Schaffnit said the problems that prompted the hearing were caused by people he's banned from the bar and transients, including people just out of prison.

"We're not the villains here," Schaffnit said. "We try to ban as many people as we can ... but it's written on the walls at the jail, 'Go to Duke's. You'll be treated right.' "

Hagerstown police asked the Liquor Board to suspend the bar's liquor license for 30 days. Police cited a high number of calls for police service and two recent violent incidents as indications the bar poses a danger to public safety.

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The Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, which oversees liquor licenses in the county, has 30 days to issue an opinion.

After Wednesday's hearing, Board Chairman Donald L. Mellott said, "For the safety of the community we have to suspend the (liquor) license for a while and maybe (issue) a fine."

Mellott, one of three board members who will vote on whether to penalize Duke's Tavern, declined to say what penalty he had in mind.

The board can impose fines of up to $2,500, and has the power to suspend or revoke liquor licenses.

Schaffnit said he would appeal any penalty handed down by the board.

At the Wednesday hearing, Hagerstown Police Capt. Robert Hart provided the board with figures that showed police were called to Duke's Tavern almost 300 times more than they were called to any other downtown bar over a 12-month period that ended in September.

Peter Schaffnit said he's being punished for telling the bartenders to call police whenever a problem arises. "I was told call police and it wouldn't go against your record," he said.

Hart told the board about a stabbing and an assault at the end of January. He said both incidents began inside the bar, which is on the first block of East Franklin Street near City Hall.

Police Sgt. John Ryder told the board that police have conducted one successful drug sting outside the bar, and have received complaints about people selling drugs inside the bar.

Schaffnit, who was joined at the hearing by his son, Duke, for whom the bar was named, said the person responsible for the stabbing and the assault was banned from the bar before the incidents.

Duke Schaffnit said the problem is with all the people who are banned from the bar but hang around in an adjacent parking lot. He said 400 people have been banned from the bar.

Hart said police will pay more attention to the people in the parking lot next to the bar.

Mellott and the Schaffnits said they hope a new city law prohibiting loitering near bars will help the situation.

"We can't do it by ourselves. ... We'd like their help," Duke Schaffnit said.

Mellott and Hart recommended improving the lighting inside the bar.

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