In an “unusual sting” operation, the Johnson County Sheriff’s office sent a “drunken informant” into six stores selling alcoholic beverages and all six sold the intoxicated individual more alcohol in violation of state law.
According to a news release sent by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, deputies conducted the compliance check last week by sending an impaired informant into six businesses to buy alcohol. An undercover officer, who drove separately to each location, recorded each instance with a hidden body camera, and an investigator drove the drunken informant to the six businesses.
The release said all six businesses sold alcohol to the drunken informant. Under Tennessee law, it is illegal to sell alcohol to a visibly impaired person.
Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece said the sheriff’s office organized the mass sting after an incident last month in which an off-duty employee witnessed a convenience store clerk sell alcohol to a visibly intoxicated customer. After buying alcohol, the man got behind the wheel of a vehicle and swerved into oncoming traffic leaving the store, Reece said, and fled the scene before officers could arrive.
…Reece said deputies gave the informant a breathalyzer test before sending him to the stings, and he clocked in at a .146 blood alcohol conten — nearly twice the legal limit of intoxication of .08 BAC in Tennessee. Reece said the informant was also showing physical signs of drunkenness, such as stumbling around in the store and fumbling for his wallet at the register, yet he was never refused service.
“It’s nothing to try to hurt people, it’s to try to educate them,” Reece said. “Don’t sell to these people if they’re already intoxicated.”
The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s executive director retreated Monday from plans to begin enforcing on July 1 a law he had interpreted as prohibiting restaurants from soaking fruits and juices in alcoholic beverages to create “infused” mixed drinks.
Critics had disputed the legal interpretation and said the prohibition would hurt the business of bars and restaurants that cater to customers with specialty drinks.
In an emailed statement, Keith Bell said the TABC still believes “the process of manufacturing infused alcoholic beverages, not for immediate consumption” by those holding only a liquor-by-the-drink license is a violation of a 2006 law and ABC rules.
“The TABC nevertheless determined it to be in the public interest that the regulatory enforcement of this prohibition be indefinitely suspended,” Bell said.
The retreat came after a Monday morning meeting between Bell and representatives of groups who disagreed with his interpretation of the 2006 law, including the Tennessee Hospitality Association and the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“There was a full and frank discussion of the matter and what was intended and what was not” by the 2006 law, said Dan Haskell, general counsel and lobbyist for the Tennessee Hospitality Association, which represents restaurants and motels.
With enforcement of the ban on infused drinks suspended, Haskell said he now anticipates further discussion on whether the ABC needs to change its rules or the Legislature needs to clarify the law in the 2014 session.
The law in question dealt with distilleries, effectively allowing them to sell products they make on premises that amount to a pre-mixed drink — Jack Daniels Lemonade or Jack Citrus, for example, produced by the whiskey distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn.
Bell decided earlier that the language of the law prohibits anyone but distilleries from mixing fruits and juices with alcohol if they are then stored and not consumed immediately. Such storage could raise health concerns, he said.
“I think calmer heads will prevail,” said Haskell, contending the the state Department of Health, which inspects restaurants, would have raised the issue if there were any health concerns. Connoisseurs believe some period of time is needed for the “flavors to marry up,” he said.
A controversy over the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s move to ban restaurants from soaking fruits and the like in booze to create a mixed drink (previous post HERE) is getting more attention… and may be left for legislators to resolve.
From WPLN: The issue centers on who’s allowed to make infusions–where an ingredient like fruit soaks in alcohol to flavor it, often for several days. Tennessee’s ABC says in looking back at a law from 2006, it found that in some cases, making infusions requires a distiller’s license, which restaurants can’t get.
In an email, the commission says despite what some people fear, the rule does not apply to drinks like margaritas or sangria. But Nashville lawyer Will Cheek warns restaurants that infuse liquors don’t want to risk having their license pulled.
“If you’ve got pineapple and fruit sitting in a vat of vodka, you need to be pulling that stuff out–it needs to be gone by July 1st.”
When the Tennessee Hospitality Association sent a letter arguing the commission is misinterpreting the rule, Cheek signed on, representing a couple major restaurant chains. If the commission won’t budge, Cheek says the matter could end up before state lawmakers next year.
And this excerpt from Cari Wade Gervin’s thorough review of the dispute, its history and ramifications: Bell says he’d be fine with a law change–he says he’s encouraging people to look at newly passed legislation in Iowa that better regulates “Mixed Drinks or Cocktails Not For Immediate Consumption.” But according to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division, that law requires pre-mixed batches of drinks to be disposed of within 72 hours if not consumed. Bars are also required to keep records–for three years–detailing when each and every batch is made and disposed of, along with the recipe, the ingredients, and the names of the person who made the batch and the person who disposed of it.
We asked Sohn if this seemed like a practical solution. She laughed loudly.
“Yeah, no,” Sohn says. “It would be very wasteful. … If they changed it to that, we probably still wouldn’t bother with infusions.”
Scanlan says he hopes TABC will reconsider its actions, but Bell doesn’t seem inclined to do so.
“I’m going to have to apply the law as it is right now,” Bell says. “I’m pretty certain we’ll start issuing citations sometime in the next few weeks.”
See also a Chattanooga Free Press editorial, opining that “the fun police are back, and this time they have their sights set on making sure that you won’t be able to sit back and enjoy a house-infused liquor at your favorite restaurant or neighborhood bar.”
News release from Secretary of State’s office:
It was the constitutional amendment that tried – often unsuccessfully – to put Americans on the path to sobriety and in the process created a booming market for Tennessee’s providers of illegal moonshine whiskey.
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which launched the Prohibition era in 1920, was called the country’s “noble experiment.” That experiment ended 13 years later with the ratification of the 21st Amendment – the only amendment to repeal another amendment – which halted Prohibition and brought imbibing back out of the shadows.
Now a new exhibit in the lobby of the Tennessee State Library and Archives building chronicles the history surrounding the passage of both amendments.
This exhibit, entitled “The Saloon and Anarchy: Prohibition in Tennessee,” surveys the brewing and distilling industries in Tennessee prior to Prohibition, chronicles the rise of the Temperance Movement in the state and the impact it had on the passage of the 18th Amendment, examines the effect that the 18th Amendment had on moonshining in the state, and recounts the passage of the 21st Amendment.
The state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which issues liquor licenses in Tennessee, now has direct access to the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s computer database for accidents related to drunken driving, reports the Chattanooga TFP. That means the commission will know sooner about any distributor who may be serving underage drinkers or visibly intoxicated ones, officials said Tuesday.
THP Director Col. Tracy Trott and ABC Executive Director Danielle Elks joined others at the Charleston Fire Department on Tuesday to announce the partnership put together by state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland.
“You’ve heard the expression ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ Well, where there’s smoke, the ABC special agents can now look for the fire,” Watson said at the news conference.
“This partnership will allow ABC special agents to more quickly gather information regarding alcohol-related traffic accidents,” he said. “This information could lead to further investigations into possible violations of state liquor laws.”
Defense attorney Jim Logan, a Democrat, said he and Watson, a Republican and veteran law enforcement officer, agreed quickly about the need to spread the responsibility beyond the driver.
When law enforcement officers saw what appeared to be a small amount of marijuana when at the home of Danielle Elks, director of the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, they did not launch an investigation, reports WSMV-TV.
Apparently, that related to the circumstances. The officers went to the home last October to notify Elks that her husband had been killed in a traffic accident. Elks was married to Joel “Taz” Digregorio, the beloved keyboardist in the Charlie Daniels band.
When Digregorio was killed in a car crash on Oct. 12, a THP trooper and two Dickson County deputies went to his home for a death notification.
Elks was in Memphis at the time, but the officers didn’t know…. According to the police summaries, the officers found the back door open and entered, concerned there may have been an intruder and wanting to check on the welfare of the occupants.
When the deputies and the state trooper went in, the deputies say they saw what they both suspected to be marijuana on the kitchen table, describing it as a “green, leafy substance.”
The deputies also found rolling papers, and noted that there was a Governor’s Marijuana Eradication Task Force sticker in the kitchen.
One of the deputies wrote, “It (the suspected marijuana) was brought to the attention of the THP officer.”
One of Elks’ business cards was also found in the home.
A source close to the investigation confirmed there was no attempt to collect the substance, and the THP trooper never launched an investigation.
The ABC employee said it sends the wrong message, and that if drugs are found at an average citizens’ home, even under terrible circumstances, it can still be investigated.
“If you’ve got two people living in the same house, and they don’t know what the other is doing, there’s something bad wrong,” the ABC employee said.
Digregorio’s autopsy showed both alcohol and marijuana were in his system when his car crashed.
“Some people at home seeing this might be saying, the woman just lost her husband. Give her a break,” Finley asked.
… The Channel 4 I-Team was respectful of Danielle Elks given her recent loss, but we did ask her to speak with us to give her side of this story. She declined.