Impact of Scottsdale public-safety ordinance questioned in bar district

A Scottsdale law designed to create a safer environment in the city’s nightclub district has not led to any establishment being required to hire an off-duty police officer.

This comes despite several assaults resulting in serious injuries and an accusation from a woman who said she was groped at a club, according to city records.

The public-safety ordinance, spurred by an incident in which a bouncer was stabbed to death, says clubs must hire an off-duty police officer if a violent felony takes place.

The law defines that as using a dangerous instrument, which city officials so far have interpreted as meaning a gun or knife.

Considered the nightlife epicenter of the Phoenix area, the Scottsdale district includes the highest concentration of bars and nightclubs in Maricopa County and attracts thousands of revelers every weekend in an area east of Scottsdale Road, between Camelback and Indian School roads.

The Arizona Republic reviewed records of police calls from establishments in the district from the time the ordinance took effect in March through June. Those records show two incidents in which people were injured when they were hit on the head with bottles inside a bar.

In another, a man sought medical attention for a leg injury after being attacked by an intoxicated person. In a fourth case, a woman reported being groped inside a bar, according to a police report.

Each incident was at a different club. The city did not require any of the clubs to hire an off-duty officer.

Scottsdale officials and businesses have differing views on whether the ordinance is effective.

Mayor Jim Lane, who led support of the law, said that the ordinance is working, and that a reported reduction in lethal weapons being brought into the district represents a “big advancement.”

“We’re not looking for fines. We’re not looking to have a bunch of off-duty police officers working in the bars. We’re not trying to push that,” he said. “We’re just trying to create a good environment as efficiently and as effectively as we can.”

Councilman Bob Littlefield, however, said nothing has changed since the ordinance took effect and the district has not become safer.

“It’s a fiction. It’s a PR stunt, and once again we make up rules and we never enforce them,” he said. “Just like I predicted, the police and the administrators have been told by the council majority to lay off the bars themselves.”

However, one longtime critic of the city’s handling of the downtown bar district said the ordinance wasn’t designed to have teeth.

Bill Crawford, president of the Association to Preserve Downtown Scottsdale’s Quality of Life, said the ordinance “was so cleverly written it is almost impossible to enact consequences.”

“I believe the ordinance was window dressing to provide political cover for Jim Lane and the other bar-friendly council members,” he said.

There have been fewer incidents involving guns and knives since the ordinance took effect, according to Scottsdale police Sgt. Mark Clark. Reported felony assaults overall, most of which did not involve a weapon, are down slightly, from 23 during the six months before March to 22 in the six months from March through August, he said.

Simple assaults, which did not result in injury or involve a weapon, reported to the police increased to 105 from 88 when comparing the two time periods.

Scottsdale police are reviewing a recent incident at Flicka’s Bar Grill, 2003 N. Scottsdale Road, which is outside the entertainment district, to determine whether an off-duty officer will be required there. On Sept. 14, police responded to an early-morning bar brawl involving more than 20 people that sent one person to the hospital with a non-life-threatening bullet wound.

No determinations have been made, Clark said. Flicka’s did not respond to calls for comment.

The public-safety ordinance requires establishments to file extensive public-safety plans, meet minimum security standards and undergo security-staff training. All of the bars in the district did so, as did those in other parts of the city required to file, police said.

The law requires establishments with one or more public-safety incidents involving the use or threatened use of a deadly weapon or deadly instrument, or a death or catastrophic bodily injury, to hire at least two off-duty officers to supplement existing security personnel for at least three weeks. However, city officials are determining that anything other than a gun or knife isn’t automatically deadly enough to invoke the penalty — even if the incident results in a serious injury.

The law also requires establishments with two or more felony public-safety incidents within a one-week period, or three or more incidents within a month,to hire at least two off-duty officers to supplement security personnel during peak times for at least three months. According to city records and city officials, no club has had more than one incident in that time period.

The ordinance was the result of Lane, other city officials and downtown bar owners coming together to examine the issue of safety in the aftermath of the fatal January 2013 stabbing of Tyrice Thompson outside Martini Ranch, 7295 E. Stetson Drive, in the downtown entertainment district. He was a bouncer there. Martini Ranch closed last fall.

One of the expected outcomes of the public-safety ordinance is better communication and education among the bar employees and the Police Department, Clark said.

“Because the bar employees went through the public-safety-plan training, we believe they have a better understanding of laws and legal reporting requirements for incidents at liquor establishments,” he said.

Attack doesn’t qualify

On the night of March 15, Scottsdale police took a report from a 31-year-old woman who said she was touched inappropriately inside Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, 4420 N. Saddlebag Trail.

According to the police report, the woman was inside the bar when she felt someone behind her reach under her shorts and fondle her. She turned around to see it was a man who moments earlier had said something offensive to her outside the establishment.

None of her friends witnessed the incident, but she told police one of her friends saw her reaction and indicated “it looked like she had just been stabbed,” the report said.

According to the police report, the woman did not want to prosecute but wanted a report written to document the man’s behavior and actions “in case there were other incidents like this in the future.” No one was arrested and the incident didn’t qualify as a public-safety incident under the new ordinance because it was not classified as a sexual assault, officials said.

Lane cited the fact that the woman didn’t want to press charges and that there was no arrest.

“You’re talking about something that could be — and I’m just saying this, I’m not suggesting that this one was — could be consensual and could not be. You don’t even have a perpetrator and you don’t have somebody who wants to press charges,” he said. “You really have a non-incident.”

Ryan Hibbert, chief executive of Riot Hospitality Group, which owns and operates Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, said, “We’re prepared to fully cooperate with the authorities if anything ever came out of the situation.”

Weapons definition

Shortly after 1 a.m on April 14, a patron of Maya Day + Nightclub, 7333 E. Indian Plaza, was assaulted and robbed by someone who grabbed items from the patron’s pocket, according to a police report.

During the incident, Timothy Thurmond, a security guard at the club, was struck in the head with a champagne bottle while attempting to break up the resulting fight. Thurmond was treated at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center. The doctor told him if the bottle had hit him an “inch upward, he would have been killed,” according to the police report.

No one was arrested and charged in the incident. The assailant was not identified. The department served a public-safety-plan letter to Maya Day + Nightclub, but the business appealed to the city and the matter was reversed, Clark said.

“It was an administrative process handled by the Police Department, in consultation with the City Attorney’s Office,” he said.

In a May 23 letter from Assistant Police Chief Jeff Walther to Jason Morris, an attorney representing the nightclub, the aggravated robbery and aggravated assault constituted a single public-safety incident, but the circumstance fell short of a penalty.

The goal of the section requiring establishments to hire off-duty officers “was to reduce the number of firearms and edged weapons entering Scottsdale liquor establishments subject to the plan,” Walther wrote.

“While champagne bottles, wine bottles, beer bottles and glassware may constitute deadly weapons in certain circumstances, those incidents must be reviewed case by case and do not automatically fall into the category of a deadly weapon or deadly instrument the way a firearm or edged weapon would,” Walther said. “In this specific incident, I find no evidence to support that the champagne bottle was used as a deadly instrument.”

Arizona’s Criminal Code specifies a deadly weapon as “anything designed for lethal use, including a firearm,” while a dangerous instrument is anything capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

City Attorney Bruce Washburn said the city can use its discretion in determining whether the intent of the ordinance applies to the circumstance of a specific incident.

Morris could not be reached for comment.

Another bottle attack

At approximately 1:40 a.m. on May 24, a man was struck in the back of his head with a 12-ounce beer bottle while inside Red Revolver Lounge, 7316 E. Stetson Drive, according to the police report. When police arrived, the man was standing outside the nightclub bleeding from his head. His white shirt was covered in blood.

According to the police report, the man didn’t remember much of what happened, but he said he argued with someone, “and the next thing he knew he was hit from behind and dropped to the floor.” A witness told police the person who struck the man with the bottle fled through the back door of the club.

No one was arrested.

Clark said no determination has been made as to whether this will be a public-safety incident and the investigation is ongoing to identify a suspect.

The fourth incident took place at approximately 4:44 p.m. on June 7, when a security guard was assaulted and suffered a leg injury while attempting to remove two individuals from Derby Public House,4420 N. Saddlebag Trail. James Paul Sinadinos, 48, of Chandler, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault-disfigurement and disorderly conduct-fighting.

According to the police report, the security guard was injured because of Sinadinos’ “reckless actions,” suffering a severely bruised leg.

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Clark said the incident was determined not to be a felony assault, so there was no ordinance effect.

Spokesmen for Red Revolver and Derby Public House could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.

Joe Diggs, president of the Scottsdale Downtown and Entertainment District Association, a bar-owners group, said their priority has “always been and continues to be the safety of our customers.”

“The cooperation of our area operations and the Scottsdale Police Department should continue to assure Scottsdale citizens that the downtown is a safe and enjoyable place to visit,” he said.

Councilwoman Linda Milhaven, who supported the ordinance and is in a runoff election for a second term, said the entertainment district has “certainly been safer” since the public-safety ordinance took effect.

“I know there’s been some folks hurt in traffic accidents, but as far as in the bars, there hasn’t been any incidents in bars and restaurants,” she said.

As for the incident at Maya Day + Nightclub, she said it wasn’t as serious as was originally suggested by the police report and that there were “extenuating circumstances.” She also said it wasn’t appropriate for the city to do anything regarding the sexual abuse at Whiskey Row because the victim didn’t press charges.

Vice Mayor Guy Phillips said the ordinance was a “good idea but had no teeth, as evidenced by the Maya incident.”

“The police couldn’t hold Maya responsible because the ordinance didn’t have a definition for a ‘dangerous weapon,’ ” he said.

Councilman Dennis Robbins, who supported the ordinance and also faces a runoff for a second term, said he hasn’t received an update from staff regarding the ordinance. As for the Maya Day + Nightclub incident, he said he would need additional information to say whether it was handled correctly.

As for the groping incident, he said, “If a victim is unwilling to prosecute the case, then the prosecutors don’t file charges and they don’t bring a crime forward we were following our ordinance in that situation.”

What the law says

According to Scottsdale public-safety ordinance, a public-safety incident means:

“An incident classified as a felony under state law consisting of a riot, sexual assault, a brawl or a disturbance, in which bodily injuries are sustained by any person and such injuries would be obvious to a reasonable person, or tumultuous conduct of sufficient intensity as to require the intervention of a peace officer to restore normal order, or an incident in which a weapon is brandished, displayed or used. (It) does not include the use of non-lethal devices by a peace officer.”

ON THE BEAT

Edward Gately covers development and urban issues in downtown and south Scottsdale, and Fountain Hills.

How to reach him

ed.gately@arizonarepublic.com.

Phone: 480-570-9817.

Twitter: @EdwardGately.

Scottsdale’s entertainment district

The area generally referred to as the entertainment district is within Scottsdale’s downtown area. The district has the highest concentration of bars and nightclubs in Maricopa County, city officials have said. It is east of Scottsdale Road, between Camelback and Indian Schools roads. The area is separate from the city’s Old Town area, which is south of Indian School Road, and the Fifth Avenue, Southbridge and Waterfront areas, which are west of Scottsdale Road. All of the areas within downtown are among the Valley’s most popular areas for tourists.

Tell us what you think

Do you frequent Scottsdale’s downtown entertainment district? Which are your favorite places? What do you like about it? What don’t you like? TheRepublic and azcentral.com would like to hear your feedback about the popular area. Send your feedback to reporter Edward Gately at ed.gately@arizonarepublic.com or via Twitter @EdwardGately.

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/scottsdale/2014/10/03/impact-scottsdale-public-safety-ordinance-questioned-bar-district/16681661/