City Paper Widget

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Columbia Heights Liquor Store Fined $8000, Closed 15 Days, For Serving Minors

Fairmont Liquors (2633 Sherman Avenue) has been fined $8000 and ordered to close for 15 days for selling alcohol to minors. The November 19th decision was announced and briefly discussed at the December 4 meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B/U Street.

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The announcement at the ANC meeting said the liquor would be closed for two weeks in December. However, the official document announcing the decision from DC's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) says "the Respondent's fifteen (15) suspension days shall begin on January 12, 2015 and end at midnight on January 28, 2015."
The liquor store has been a subject of brief discussion at several recent meetings of ANC1B's liquor licensing affairs committee. At the meeting neighbors claimed that the store was known as a place where students from nearby Howard University who had not yet turned 21 could buy alcohol.

The ABRA document notes the testimony of an Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer, who said, on the day he observed underage liquor sales (August 24, 2013): "Most of the individuals in line had on Howard University sweatshirts and other university gear."

The MPD officer called the Howard University Police Department (HUPD) for assistance. From the ABRA findings of fact on the case:
While MPD and HUPD were standing outside the store, a white male patron exited the store and one of the HUPD officers called him by name. They then questioned the white male patron regarding his age, and he disclosed that he was 19 years old. The white male patron also produced identification, a Maine Driver's License, indicating that he was 19 years old. The white male patron also disclosed that he bought the beer and that he always buys his beer at the Respondent's establishment. [Citations of other documents, which occur at the end of each sentence, omitted.]
The owner of the store, Abel Gizachew, denied selling alcohol to the 19-year-old.

On January 24, 2014, according to the report, ABRA investigators responding to "numerous complaints regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages to under aged students from Howard University" observed the sale of alcohol to a man who, when confronted, could only produce a Howard University student ID to identify himself. The man turned out to be 20 years old.

When the investigators returned to the store and confronted Gizachew and other store employees, the document says, "many of the patrons started leaving the store without any purchases."

In response to this second incident, Gizachew said the underage customer in question had "could have used a fake ID".  The ABRA investigator said that the underage customer was in the investigator's site at all times and at no time was ID asked for.

The DC liquor licensing board voted 5-2 that Fairmont Liquor violated DC law on three of four charges connected with the two separate occasions of sales to minors. These three charges, taken together, added up to the $8000 in fines and 15 day suspension. Two members of the board who dissented from the ruling felt that Fairmont Liquor should also have been found guilty on the fourth charge. The fourth charge could have carried an additional penalty of $2000 and five additional days of closure.

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