Friday, April 22, 2016

Final Chance

Court is in session:  Select Board, Temporary Town Manger, Town attorney

Acting as Liquor Commissioners the Amherst Select Board last night had to balance two sometimes competing interests:  the ability of a small business to survive in an ever increasing competitive market and the protection of public safety i.e. keeping underage patrons from procuring alcohol.

Obviously the latter takes precedence.

After an hour of testimony, including that of Police Chief Scott Livingstone and Detective Brian Daley, and then another painstaking hour of discussion, they unanimously voted to suspend the liquor license of Panda East for a total of 55 days, May 4th through June 27.

Fifty days for the two new incidents and 5 days that were given in "abeyance" for the original incident in January.

 Detective Brian Daley and Chief Livingstone give sworn testimony to Select Board

Thus the Select Board softened the blow somewhat by allowing the suspension to run out during the late spring into summer, a slower time of year in our little college town.  Although they will be dry during busy commencement weekend.

At one point the specter of outright revocation was raised, and then another suggestion by Doug Slaughter of seven full months (June 1st to the end of the year) was briefly discussed.

Even after the number of days under discussion for suspension came down to a month or two, Mr. Slaughter suggested the start of the penalty be September 1st rather than the slow summer months.

Attorney Kristi Bodin attacked the most egregious incident where a 17-year-old female was allegedly served two Scorpion Bowls and required hospitalization for alcohol OD by stating all the evidence was hearsay and they were being denied the basic right to cross examine witnesses.

Ms. Bodin also pointed out after the January incident where Panda East was sanctioned for serving 17 underage patrons the recipe for Scorpion Bowls was reduced to one shot of alcohol.  And it's hard to imagine two shots could put someone into a stupor requiring hospitalization.

 Attorney Kristi Bodin, Amy Wu manager Panda East

The young women did tell investigators she went to a UMass dorm room after being at Panda East so it's quite possible -- in fact likely -- more alcohol was then consumed, pushing her over the edge.  

But the second incident where a 20-year-old used a fake Rhode Island license to successfully acquire alcohol was pretty much beyond reproach and even acknowledged by Attorney Bodin that her client "dropped the ball."

Although interestingly the night of the second incident APD was doing a sting operation using four 20-year-old UMPD cadets and all four were denied service after being carded.

In her closing argument, like any good defense attorney who is cornered, Attorney Bodin threw herself on the mercy of the "court" saying her client desperately wants to stay in business.

After the last incident in January she has been trying to change the image of the business back to a restaurant rather than a drinking establishment.

And after these most recent incidents Ms. Wu purchased a $5,000 electronic scanning machine to detect fake I.D.s  Although Temporary Town Manger Peter Hechenbleikner pointed out you still need to use commons sense since a real license can be used by the wrong party.

In addition to pulling their liquor license for 55 days the Select Board also gave Ms. Wu until that June 27 end date to have the liquor license transferred over to her name from that of current absentee owner Isaac Chow.

The Select Board also told the Town Manager to come up with a 11" by 17" sign to be prominently posted in the front entry of the eatery displaying the dates their liquor license is suspended. 

So does the punishment fit the crime?  Well, yes and no.

Since the Select Board let them off easy for the first incident back in January by only immediately pulling the license for two days -- a Monday and Tuesday no less -- this 55 day sanction seems rather stern.

But I have to wonder if one of the downtown bars involved with the infamous Blarney Blowout were involved rather than an iconic restaurant would the punishment have been a tad more severe?

Either way, it's getting harder and harder for small businesses to survive in the downtown.

And after the slew of publicity this incident has now generated combined with the real threat of revocation for another incident -- with APD on the watch -- I think Panda East has, finally, learned a hard lesson.

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd ..."


Anonymous said...

Another victim of a bad business environment in the town of Amherst. The police sneaking around, spying, trying to entice businesses, sounds like the Gestapo to me.

Larry Kelley said...

I believe that's how you enforce the law.

Larry Kelley said...

Kind of like using radar to enforce speed limit laws.

Anonymous said...

The other side of the coin is General Laws Chapter 90, section 24B: Using a False Motor Vehicle Document. You can look it up. It's a felony, as written by our state legislature. In our state laws, it's not viewed as a youthful prank.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Geezum Crow- April 18th 2016 marked the 19th year since I was crippled for life by a bar hopping D.U.I. drinking and driving group of 3 young men puke ups-I sure didn't get a "Reprieve"..everybody tells victims of drunk drivers-how much they hate them for being "Party poppers" raining on the puke ups parade-ever stop to think how badly being maimed for life "Ruins the party" ? I lost everything-family home-fortune-right to marry-have kids-and the right to love, life, and the pursuit of happiness-put some "Tea" in that stein-and smoke it !

Anonymous said...

It seems like Panda is making a good faith effort to stop these incidents.

1. Four UMPD cadets are carded/denied the same night of one of these infractions. Seems like at least SOME Panda East staff are trying to play by the rules, and since it just means less tips for them, I'm sure the order came down from the top rather than the waiters themselves.

2. One 20-year old passes off a fake Rhode Island ID, some of which can scan and look very genuine. He was still carded, and would presumably have been denied if he didn't have ID ready. Maybe their scanning machinery isn't top notch, but it looks like an authentic effort on their part to enforce the age laws.

3. Of course Panda always had the rep of being lenient, and there may be too many cases here for forgive, especially in light of the previous busts. But it takes time to change a culture of leniency, and it looks like they have been trying.

Larry Kelley said...

The fake Rhode Island license was not scanned. They purchased the scanner after these two most recent incidents (as in about a week ago).

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, the real problem is that Massachusetts (a) does not recognize out-of-state IDs (nor Military IDs, AND refuses to issue any form of ETOH ID to non-residents (most other states do).

Hence bars & restaurants are only allowed to serve MA residents, which is a problem in a college town where 1/4 of your customers are out-of-state students.

A friend of mine, a Captain in the US Army, had a Maine Driver's license, a Military ID, and an "off-post carry permit" -- and that wasn't good enough. He could carry a loaded gun onto an airplane, but couldn't buy a beer in Amherst....

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the poster at 10:13 wants a alcohol free society- everyone must pay!! Sorry Charlie:(

Anonymous said...

"But I have to wonder if one of the downtown bars involved with the infamous Blarney Blowout were involved rather than an iconic restaurant would the punishment have been a tad more severe?"

Possibly, but then again those places don't let you in the door without scanning the ID, and demanding backup for any out-of-state IDs. They definitely do their part in keeping alcohol flowing in Amherst, but I never knew anyone who got served underage there, compared to all of us who did at Panda East.

Anonymous said...

With reference to Ed's comments, I don't credit anything from him without a fact-checker. I'm pretty sure that Fenway Park, for example, is not requiring in-state IDs from those buying beer there.

Anonymous said...

Bitter old man mad at teenagers doing what teenagers do. RIP Panda Garden. Time to open another homeless shelter there, now that is helping Amherst thrive.

Larry Kelley said...

Reports of their death are greatly exaggerated.

Anonymous said...

In response to the ramblings of dr ed, if you are an out of state student at the bars in Amherst, you must present your license to be scanned and your student ID to verify that your license is real

Walter Graff said...

Glad she bought the machine. She has tried very hard after the first incident purchasing the state book on fake IDs, taking a course and training her employees. With today's technology, licences can be easily faked. That's why I told her she needed the scanner after her first time but she balked about the cost. Glad she finally got it. Now she should have no issues.

Anonymous said...

This isn't a new business, they've been around for 40 years. They haven't been serious about underage drinking and they are lucky they didn't lose their license all together. The Time Out Bar was the same way and they got their license pulled. Panda Garden better wake up, or they will suffer the same fate.

Dr. Ed said...

As of 2012, a military ID is acceptable, but valid out-of-state IDs still aren't. (Thank you Reed Hillman....)

Mass ABCC says:

"If a licensee is charged with permitting the service, delivery, or
possession of alcoholic beverages by a person under twenty one years of age, under current state law, a licensee has a defense only if the licensee can affirmatively prove that prior to permitting the service, delivery or possession of alcoholic beverages by a person, the licensee request
ed, was shown, examined and reasonably relied on either:
1. A Massachusetts Driver’s License;
2. A Massachusetts Liquor Identification Card;
3. A Massachusetts Identification Card;
4. A Passport Issued by the United States or a government that is officially recognized by the United States;
5. A Passport Card for a Passport issued by the United States; and
6. A Military Identification Card.

Reliance by a licensee on any other form of identification to determine proof of age does not give the licensee a defense. As of December 1, 2012,
neither the state Liquor Control Act nor the regulations of the ABCC require identification to be checked as a condition to selling or delivering an
alcoholic beverage to any person (except in the case of certain deliveries to consumers at their homes or offices). Each licensee is left to decide for
itself what policy to establish on checking identification prior accepting orders for, selling and delivering alcoholic beverages....

[W]hile a licensee may choose to rely upon any form of
identification to obtain proof of age, only these specific six
forms of identification provide a defense to a charge of service, delivery, or possession of alcoholic beverages by a person under twenty-one years of age."

Dr. Ed said...

When it was out on Route 9, Panda Garden was notorious for serving underaged patrons, at least those involved with the UMass SGA.

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, remember the infamous KKK-9+1 incident at umASS?

If the earlier license violations are based on social media pictures of underaged female UMass students drinking Scorpion Bowls, did APD forward those pictures to UMass and did Enku boot them?

I think it would be a good question to ask both Chief Livingston and UMass.

Likewise, why can't Panda Garden sue the underaged students -- how is this different from shoplifting? If you knowingly present a fake ID, how is that different from knowingly presenting a fake credit card?

Larry Kelley said...

Amherst Brewing Company brought suit again a student using a fake I.D. and won, but it was a major hassle.

Ralph Reed said...

Thank you for your stalwart journalism.

Larry Kelley said...

You're welcome. Thanks for the readership.

10:52 said...

Ed, my god, can you not get one freaking fact right?

Panda East was never out on route 9. The previous restaurant there was Hunan Gourmet.

But, hey, keep on blabbing...

Anonymous said...

Panda aGarden is still in its original location. It was never on Rt.9. Wrong again Ed.

Anonymous said...

Panda Garden was on Pleasant St in N'ton.
After it closed - it reopened in Hadley under the name Butterfly
There is currently a Panda Garden in Williamsburg.

Anonymous said...

This particular Panda Garden was never on Rt. 9.

Anonymous said...

"This particular Panda Garden was never on Rt. 9."
Correct- The restaurant being discussed is Panda East

Anonymous said...

Panda East was never on Rt. 9. Happy now?

Dr. Ed said...

ABCC regs are still ABCC regs, though.

10:52 said...

Ed DESPERATELY tries to somehow get a last word in....