Alcohol enforcement a priority for Orono police

Posted June 16, 2010, at 10:33 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — When it comes to enforcing state liquor laws, few area police departments deal with it as often as police in Orono, hometown of the University of Maine, where a new batch of freshmen arrives each year.

“It is certainly one of the areas that we focus on the most, simply because underage and-or high-risk drinking leads to all of the other issues, like assaults, criminal mischief, criminal trespass, noise complaints, OUI, theft, disorderly conduct, et cetera,” Capt. Josh Ewing said earlier this month.

By taking a tough stance on state liquor law violators, he said, “we believe we can reduce those other crimes and complaints.”

Ewing said that under a 2007 agreement with the state Liquor Licensing and Inspection Unit, Orono police received the authority to enforce the administrative rules related to alcohol sales.

“All of our officers are trained in this area and have the authority to issue citations for any violations they discover,” Ewing said.

To that end, he said, Orono police have done numerous compliance checks at local lounges, stores, restaurants and other places that sell alcohol.

The compliance checks involve sending minors into businesses that sell alcohol to see whether store clerks and bar employees are checking IDs and not selling to minors.

“We have conducted these stings jointly with Old Town Police Department and on one occasion with Veazie police,” he said. “In Orono, these ‘stings’ have resulted in two warnings and administrative violations for sales to a minor.”

Occasionally, however, incidents occur that uncover far more violations, Ewing said.

In March 2009, after receiving reports that minors were being served alcohol at 103 Ultra Lounge, Orono police conducted a compliance check during peak bar hours, about 12:30 a.m. on a weekend night, he said. Because of the number of people there at the time, Orono police sought the assistance of personnel from the Liquor Licensing and Inspection Unit, the state police, Old Town police, Veazie police and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Ewing said the check yielded the following charges:

ä Criminal violations for having a blocked fire exit and overcrowding, with more than 800 people present despite the lounge being licensed for 427.

ä Administrative violations for three counts of failure to offer food and four counts of allowing visibly intoxicated patrons, two of them underage, to remain on the premises.

There also were five arrests for domestic assault, disorderly conduct, obstructing government administration, criminal mischief and failure to disperse, he said.

Orono Town Manager Catherine Conlow said Tuesday that 103 Ultra Lounge closed in late May.

The Orono Town Council, which had been growing increasingly alarmed about violations, violence, overcrowding and other problems connected to the business, voted in February against recommending a liquor license for the bar, according to reports published in the Bangor Daily News.

Conlow said that 103 Ultra Lounge’s owner opted not to pursue an appeal. The building, owned by Alex Gray, currently is for lease.

Another case that yielded numerous violations occurred last June. That episode began when an officer conducting a traffic stop in the Pine Street town parking lot spotted unruly patrons in the Bear Brew Pub’s open deck area.

Afterward, the officer entered the pub to deal with the disorderly people. As it turned out, one of the unruly patrons was a minor who had been served alcohol. A closer look turned up another minor who had been served and a third patron who was visibly intoxicated.

The bartender was charged with two administrative violations for failure to request ID, two counts of providing liquor to a minor, one count of serving a visibly intoxicated person, and one count of an employee drinking while working.

The brew pub, which had been owned by Matt Haskell since 2002, changed hands this past March, when it was sold to Jim Bence, a 1978 University of Maine graduate who has owned the Bar Harbor ice creamery C.J.’s Big Dipper for 21 years.

“I think that [the new owner has] put a lot of time and effort into cleaning it up,” Conlow said. “We don’t anticipate any problems. The people who are running it seem sincere. They completely struck me as the kind of people who know how to run these types of businesses.”

Ewing said that police will continue to monitor what goes on there.

“We’ll take a wait-and-see approach to what happens in the fall” when college students return, he said.

According to Ewing, Orono police issued 352 summonses in 2009 for alcohol violations, including furnishing liquor to a minor, providing a place for minors to consume, possession of false ID, illegal transportation of liquor by a minor, illegal possession of liquor by a minor and a variety of administrative violations.

So far this year, the department has issued 134 summonses for alcohol violations, he said.

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