When a nightclub's liquor license is in jeopardy, video saves the day at a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board administrative hearing

A hotel's nightclub was up for its two-year liquor license review when it received a notice from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board that its ability to continue serving alcohol was in jeopardy.

The letter prompted an immediate call to attorney Frank C. Sluzis, who focuses on state liquor license cases at Scaringi Law Sluzis ensured that the club would continue to operate under temporary authority while the case headed for an administrative hearing.

In its letter outlining the decision not to renew the license, the PLCB's Bureau of Licensing cited police activity in and around the establishment over the past two years.

But Sluzis quickly ascertained that the case boiled down to one unfortunate incident, which would be the deciding factor during the hearing.

At first blush, the incident read like a classic over-reaction by nightclub security. A young man drinking with friends has one too many. Two of the bar's security staff approach him and an altercation ensues. The staff escorts the young man to the nearest door -- a side exit not normally open to the public. The two staff members push the patron through the door and out onto the pavement. The door slams shut and the patron isn't heard from again that evening.

Problem solved, right?

Not so fast.

Instead, the legal and liquor license headaches for the establishment were only beginning. That's because no one observed what happened when the patron burst through the door under the strength of the security staff.

It turns out that the inebriated young man tripped off the curb and fell, striking his head on the bumper of a car illegally parked in the restricted area. Worse, the man suffered profound head injuries. He remains disabled to this day.

A first reading of the facts didn't look so good for the establishment. Only an all-seeing eye in the sky would save the day.

The eye in the sky doesn't lie - and it might just save your liquor license

Fortunately, the establishment was outfitted with multiple video cameras. This small army of cameras watched over and recorded nearly everything that occurred in and around the busy nightclub, all from multiple angles. Thus, the all-important PLCB administrative hearing over the fate of the bar's liquor license would not come down to a "he-said" deadlock. Undisputable visual evidence of exactly what occurred that fateful night would hold sway.

So, what did the videotape show?

It turns out this case wasn't nearly so clear-cut as a security staff over-reaction. The tape showed the patron starting a fight outside on the nightclub's deck area, which wisely was covered by one of the multiple cameras.

It was a shoving match. The bar's security was right on it, separating the combatants and warning them to keep away from one another. But the fight's instigator couldn't bring himself to leave well enough alone.

The tape showed this patron running back and throwing a punch. This time, the staff didn't waste any time. They acted decisively to remove the patron. Yet the man wasn't about to go quietly into that good night.

Once again, the videotape proved key: It showed the man grabbing the back of a booth and holding on for dear life as the bar staff struggled to remove him.

Finally, the staff managed to pry the man's hands from the booth, and they pushed him toward the nearest door. The patron battled all the way. The staff opened the door and pushed the patron out, using no more strength than was necessary. The door immediately swung shut and locked automatically, so the banished patron couldn't get back inside.

The bottom line was that the videotape ­­-- shot from multiple angles by cameras mounted at strategic points all around the establishment -- clearly showed that the security staff had not used excessive force. Indeed, they had acted appropriately in the face of an out-of-control patron.

This irrefutable visual evidence utterly undermined the story being spun by the injured man's friends and family. Theirs was a tale of a man minding his own business and of the bouncers throwing him out, seemingly indifferent to his welfare.

The establishment also took steps after the fact to prevent such an injury from occurring again. The side door in question is barred from use. Cones now prevent anyone from parking in the area near the door.

In the end, the establishment won the two-day hearing and saw its license renewed. But the outcome could have been far different had it not been for its many video cameras.

Licensed establishments can't have enough video cameras, as far as this lawyer is concerned

Frank Sluzis is an attorney with extensive experience representing licensed establishments on Pennsylvania liquor-control and enforcement issues. As far as he is concerned, pubs, bars, nightclubs and other licensed establishments can't have too many cameras.

"Licensees should have video," insists Sluzis. "Think of what happens in bars. They are not selling candy bars, so things happen. Having the proper security and, more importantly, having video cameras - video all over the place - was the saving grace."

Indeed, the establishment that saw its license saved by those cameras responded by adding even more.

"These people had 18 cameras, inside and out," Sluzis recounts. "And afterwards, they added six more cameras. They are not taking any chances."

Unfortunately, not all licensed establishments are as video-savvy. Sluzis says only about 20 percent of establishments he represents are fully covered by video monitoring. Most have a camera or two, but only a wise few have these unblinking eyes covering their establishment inside and out.

When Sluzis first speaks with a prospective client and tours his establishment, the experienced liquor license attorney preaches video.

"One or two cameras -- that is just not going to cut it," Sluzis says. "When something happens and the police come, it is after the fact. They witness the aftermath. They talk to people. That's their only source of information."

But cameras record it all, as it happens.

"I tell prospective clients to do themselves a favor and have video,'' Sluzis says. "Have all parts of the licensed establishment -- and outside -- covered. Eliminate blind spots."

The evidence on those videotapes or digital recordings might just save a liquor license.

To learn more about how Frank C. Sluzis can help you, email him at info@scaringilaw.com

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