East Lansing Police Department has no set protocol for how and when liquor laws are enforced — instead it is up to the officer. Any patron at an East Lansing liquor establishment can expect random police checks to ensure public safety. This includes the possibility of a police officer asking any bar patron to provide identification in an attempt to deter under-age drinkers from frequenting liquor establishments, according to ELPD.
The State News, through a Freedom of Information Act request, acquired 13 police reports, all of which are from investigations regarding liquor infractions at East Lansing bars.
The State News requested all records and reports regarding bar walkthroughs/raids for all East Lansing bars frequented by MSU students since Jan. 1, 2016.
Of the 10 bars in East Lansing for which The State News requested information, six were included in the report. The Landshark had six reports filed for liquor infraction, all in 2016. The Riv and FieldHouse had two infractions filed over the two-year period. Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub, Lou and Harry’s Bar/Grill and The Tin Can each had one infraction. Bars included were ones listed as suspects in the case.
Infractions against the liquor establishments include allegedly over-serving a patron, allowing minors into the bar with a fake ID, serving alcohol after 2:30 a.m. and allowing patrons inside the bar with an under-21 ID.
“The reasons we would patrol through a bar are very wide,” Lt. Chad Connelly of ELPD said. “I️t can be everything from making sure liquor establishments are in compliance with some of the laws and rules that regulate what their operating. Other parts of it would be to make sure that there are not patrons being over-served, under-aged drinkers, fights, any type of thing that could be a safety concern for those people who are frequenting those establishments. There’s really no set protocol for when we do it or how we do it. We’ll walk through bars on a Monday night just like we will on a Friday or a Saturday night.”
In addition to expecting regular police checkups in East Lansing’s liquor establishments, ELPD increases its public presence on days with increased alcohol consumption, such as holidays and home football games.
When police enter a liquor establishment for random liquor enforcement, any patron inside the bar could be asked to present a valid ID.
“I just kind of chill with my friends that are obviously over 21 so that hopefully they wouldn’t come near me,” M., a sophomore at MSU whose initial has been given for privacy reasons, said.
M. said she frequently attends bars and has been in the presence of a police walkthrough.
M., even as a 20-year-old, has never been stopped when attempting to enter an East Lansing liquor establishment. She is almost a year away from her 21st birthday.
“I think I go to the bars because it’s the cool thing to do. All my older friends go. If I wanted to hang out with any of my friends that are older I have to go to the bars, that’s the only thing the older kids do. It makes you seem cool if an underage can go,” M. said.
M. said she uses a real ID, given to her by an of-age friend. Using real IDs which look like the underage student is a common tactic to “trick” a bouncer into thinking they are in fact of age. Other false IDs can be ordered off the internet and alter the individual’s birthday to make them appear of legal age.
This practice is confirmed from a police report on Feb. 23, in reference to an alleged liquor law violation by FieldHouse on 213 Ann St.
The report details a proactive check by former liquor liaison officer Tim Smith, who had anonymous complaints of minors being served. During the check, the first two patrons questioned were found to be under-age.
FieldHouse General Manager Mike Weinrich said his staff supports the Responsible Hospitality Council, or RHC. The council is a group of local restaurant owners that promotes “ the responsible promotion and service of alcohol to the East Lansing community,” according to its website.
Weinrich also acknowledged that bar searches were for public safety.
The liquor liaison position is rotational, with officers being assigned to the post for three to five years. The current liquor liaison is officer Jeffery Spitz.
“As law enforcement officers, we have the right to make sure the people that are frequenting liquor establishments are of age,” Connelly said. “So if you do see someone who appears to be underage, you do have the right to ask them for ID, which hopefully they produce.”
A number of things can happen once a police officer determines an MIP at a liquor establishment. It could result in anything from a warning to an arrest — officers hold discretion in their policing, Connelly said.
“If they are deemed to be underage, then you have a couple different issues. One, you have a minor in possession issue, two, you could have a minor in a liquor establishment issue,” he said. “Now officers have discretion on how they take enforcement. Now that could be a verbal warning, I️t could be a citation, all the way up to arrest depending on what the infraction is.”
A police report from Sept. 15, 2016, details an alleged liquor infraction against The Riv for over-serving a patron during a Thursday Burgerama, or Rama. The man had a blood alcohol content of 0.229 and was found during the random check holding onto a pillar, then falling down to the ground. When asked by police how much he had consumed a drink, the man stated he had been served two pitchers of beer, according to the report.
The report states the man repeatedly told the police he was not drunk. When asked to recite the alphabet, the report said “his performance was dreadful.”
“His recital bore no resemblance to the actual alphabet, and it was impossible to keep track of the errors he made. Officer Horst noted this error-laden attempt to state the alphabet, and (name redacted) went on a minutes long effort to have Officer Horst recite the alphabet, claiming Horst did not know how to do this,” the report stated.
The individual, with effort from bar staff and police, was sent home in a taxi. The bar manager paid the fare, according to the report.
Brian Leyrer, the general manager at The Riv, said management had the liquor liaison speak to his staff.
“Jeff (Spitz) came in to meet with our door guys, I asked him in,” Leyrer said.
The individual was not cited for drunk and disorderly conduct violations. The bar, however, was in the report for allegedly over-serving a patron and for allowing a visibly intoxicated person in the bar, ELPD Deputy Chief Steve Gonzalez said.
“Simply being intoxicated at a 0.229 like this individual was is not against the law. There is a misnomer out there that being drunk and disorderly is against the law. To meet that disorderly threshold, we’ve got a very vast array of disorderly conduct violations,” Gonzalez said.
Leyrer said The Riv, as part of RHC in East Lansing, passed its most recent sting on March 24.
“Some bars are notoriously known for letting in minors, we’re hopefully not one of those bars anymore,” Leyrer said.
Presenting false ID to either a liquor establishment employee or a police officer is considered disorderly conduct in East Lansing and could result in the immediate arrest of the individual, Connelly said.
A police report from Feb. 10, 2017, details an alleged incident at FieldHouse with multiple minors in possession at the bar from several trips. The first occurred on Feb. 2, and a woman was arrested immediately after presenting a false Illinois ID at the door.
On Feb. 10, sensing a trend, four police officers went back for more random checks, according to the report. A 20-year-old woman was questioned and it was determined she had used a fake New York ID to enter the bar. After an initial denial, she was deemed cooperative, received a citation and was driven home by a police officer.
The third incident from the report occurred after officers confronted the bar management and were escorted to the door. While at the door, two MIPs, one with a fake Ohio ID and the other with a fake Michigan ID, allegedly attempted to enter the bar.
The man with the Ohio ID fled on foot, while the man with the fake Michigan ID was apprehended and arrested for MIP with a blood-alcohol level of 0.12.
In a police report from Dec. 10, 2016, The Tin Can was subject to a random liquor enforcement sting. A 20-year-old police cadet was successful in using her under-21 ID to enter the bar. The report said she was served a beer, and immediately told her superior, the Liquor Liaison Officer.
The bartender was given a citation for providing alcohol to a minor — not the bouncer who let the cadet inside.
When the officers followed up with the establishment, ownership informed police the bouncer had let the undercover cadet inside was fired, according to the report.
Tin Can Manager Dave Sell said it had a good relationship with ELPD and is part of RHC. Sell wants to prevent problems with underage drinking.
“We don’t play any cat and mouse games. The underage person uses their true age ID,” Gonzalez said of undercover operations. “If the person is turned away at the door or not sold any alcohol, good, they leave.”
Landshark Bar and Grill at 101 E. Grand River Avenue had the most infractions during the two-year span, with six police reports citing the liquor establishment as a suspect between Jan. 31, 2016 to Aug. 2, 2016. No other liquor citations for the bar are reported after this period in 2016.
Management at Landshark did not respond to a request to comment by the time of publication.
According to the report a police report from Jan. 31, 2016, around 3:30 a.m. an officer observed seven to 10 individuals walking into Landshark, many of whom appeared to work at the establishment. When the officer entered the establishment, he observed a bartender providing glasses of beer to two persons sitting at the bar with no monetary transaction.
The officer did not observe any employees cleaning the bar, which they had claimed to do after the officer made initial contact, the report said.
Landshark was reported because it had allegedly broken Michigan Liquor Control Commission rules, including furnishing and consuming alcohol between 2:30 and 7 a.m., selling liquor for less than wholesale cost and occupying the bar between 2:30 and 7 a.m. The report was turned over to the MLCC for issuance of charges for illegal bar activities, according to the report.
Other reports from Landshark allege individuals were let in with false IDs. Two of the reports, on Feb. 25, 2016 and Feb. 27, 2016, have exactly the same officer observations word for word. Each walkthrough had three officers and the amount of arrests and citations were redacted.
“A very simple data pull can tell you whether a liquor establishment is adding a bunch of problems... We can pull data out of our record management system and say, ‘Hey, is this establishment having a problem?’” Gonzalez said. “We pull all the reports for the citations that have been taken out of our management system and say, ‘Oh no, there’s no problem here’ or, ‘Oh yeah, absolutely, look at all these things.”
Under-aged drinking at liquor establishments has been a problem since the implementation of Michigan’s 21 drinking age in 1978, and East Lansing liquor establishments will be tackling this issue for years to come.
“We have rules set for reasons, the state legislature sets those rules law enforcement doesn’t,” Connelly said. “Our job is to make sure they are executed and that it’s done probably. I️t really boils down to a safety issue.”