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Trinity appealing ABC license suspension

Case goes to Charlottesville Circuit Court

<p>Trinity can continue to serve alcohol pending the court’s final ruling.</p>

Trinity can continue to serve alcohol pending the court’s final ruling.

For the third time, Trinity Irish Pub is appealing a decision made by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to suspend its wine and beer on and off premises and mixed beverage license privileges. Trinity can continue to serve alcohol pending the court’s final ruling.

The appeal went to the Charlottesville Circuit Court Sept. 28.

On Nov. 22, 2014, five ABC agents made a number of observations that led to three allegations against the pub, one of which was dropped.

The agents were initially engaging in crowd control, but entered Trinity upon noticing patrons throwing their drinks at protesters as well as seeing a patron “urinating off of the balcony.”

Upon entering the bar, the agents made several observations of Virginia code violations that led to the three allegations.

The first allegation was that the bar sold an alcoholic beverage to an individual that agents had reason to believe was intoxicated, and that the bartender should have discerned said person was intoxicated.

Court documents say the agents observed a male individual who appeared to be “very unsteady on his feet.” Agent John Cielakie said he observed that same “glassy eyed” individual purchase another drink, specifically seeing the bartender handing the individual his credit card back.

The second allegation, which the ABC Board overturned in January, was that the licensee allowed multiple people, who the licensee knew or had reason to believe intoxicated, to drink on their premises.

Court documents say while it is likely there were multiple intoxicated individuals allowed to consume alcohol, the evidence “did not show with certainty the additional element of consumption by these ‘multiple persons.’”

The third allegation was that there wasn’t sufficient lighting in the bar, which inhibited the agents from discerning facial features.

Special agent Jared Miller testified the second floor area was “so dim that the agents needed their flashlights to see the patrons.”

Miller testified before the ABC Board that he and the other agents were present “conducting a uniformed operation” on the Corner, according to court documents.

Ryan Rooney, an owner of Trinity, said the events that led to the Nov. 22 accusations were a “perfect storm.”

Firstly, hundreds of students protested on the Corner concerning the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus.” Secondly, it was the night of the last University home football game of the season.

Additionally, it was the day of the controversial “fourth-year fifth,” a tradition in which some fourth-year students try to finish a fifth of liquor by the end of the day.

Paul Buckwalter, the attorney representing Rooney in the case, cited these conditions in his memorandum in support of the appeal.

Buckwalter argues the agency failed to adequately inform Trinity about the nature of its violations, and the notice of the violations included typographical errors which misled them.

The hearing officer who first heard Trinity’s case found that the agency gave verbal notice to the owners of Trinity.

Buckwalter also claims there was a disconnect between the time when agents Miller and Cannon observed the intoxicated individual upstairs and the time when they observed an apparently intoxicated individual purchasing a drink.

“There was testimony regarding patron’s demeanor and actions earlier, while upstairs, but there was zero evidence regarding the patron’s mannerisms when being served ‘quite a bit’ later downstairs in front of a different server,” Buckwalter’s memorandum reads.

He also notes the observations agents made should not have necessarily been made by the bartender.

Michelle Welch, the senior assistant attorney general representing the ABC board, disagreed with this, saying that the patron’s “visibly intoxicated state” was unmistakable.

Buckwalter also said the language of the citation that referred to Trinity not having sufficient lighting didn’t apply to the case of that particular night.

“The language of this section is about the construction, arrangement and illumination that might ‘prevent’ reasonable observation of any ‘room’ or ‘area’ where beverages may be consumed,” Buckwalter’s memorandum reads. “If the agents had asked to have the lights turned up and Trinity refused, perhaps they were ‘prevented’ from some level of observation.”

Welch simply concludes that this is not true, writing that “both Agent Miller and SAC Cannon both testified that they could not see well enough to do their job and had to use flashlights,” and citing that the hearing officer’s acceptance of their testimonial is substantial evidence that supports the agency’s decision.

Judge Richard Moore said he had to review the case’s prior proceedings before moving the case forward, according to a Daily Progress article.

Buckwalter, Rooney and Welch declined to comment on the case.

Agents Miller and Cielakie, along with agent Thomas Custer, are also involved in a $3 million lawsuit by Martese Johnson, who was injured in a controversial arrest in March 2015.

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