LINCOLN — Omaha’s Fun-Plex amusement park has dodged a liquor law violation because a police officer missed a hearing where he was called to testify against the business.
The executive director of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission said last week’s no-show marked the second such instance in the past year by an Omaha officer subpoenaed to appear at a formal hearing. The violation was downgraded in the other case as well, said Hobert Rupe, the commission’s director.
“We subpoena people to show up at the hearings because they have crucial evidence,” he said. “Without it, sometimes the prosecutor isn’t able to proceed with the case.”
Police subpoenaed to testify before the commission are expected to appear, said Officer Michael Pecha, an Omaha Police Department spokesman. If a scheduling conflict arises, the officer should notify the commission in advance so other arrangements can be worked out.
Pecha said he was not aware of the circumstances that led the officer to miss the Dec. 18 hearing, nor would he say if the officer faced discipline as a result. But Pecha did confirm that failing to show up for hearings without giving advance notice can subject officers to disciplinary action.
“We respect the work they do and we want to make sure lines of communication are open,” Pecha said, referring to the Liquor Commission. “We’re looking into their concerns.”
Fun-Plex faced disciplinary action in the form of a liquor license suspension for serving alcohol to two underage girls at a 21-and-over swim party the night of July 3. The officer stopped the girls for a traffic violation shortly after they left Fun-Plex.
“The suspects stated that when they presented their IDs, the security checking them ‘didn’t bat an eye’ and let them right in,” the officer wrote in his incident report.
Both of the girls also were subpoenaed and were waiting to testify at the hearing. But the officer had possession of the fake IDs, which Rupe described as necessary to tie the evidence together.
Instead, when the officer failed to show up, an assistant state attorney general pulled the violation and changed the hearing to a mandatory meeting.
A mandatory meeting is similar to a warning ticket for speeding. In this case, Fun-Plex was instructed to do a better job of making sure no teens consume alcohol at the water park in the future.
Records from mandatory meetings go on file with the commission, but they don’t carry the gravity of a violation. Under state law, repeat violations carry increasingly stringent penalties, culminating with revocation of a liquor license upon a fourth violation.
Fun-Plex likely could have seen its license suspended for up to 20 days had the officer presented the fake IDs as evidence, Rupe said. In lieu of serving a suspension, a license holder can opt to pay fines ranging from $50 to $100 per day, depending upon whether the violation is a repeat offense.
Even though they caught a break, the operators of Fun-Plex plan to address the underlying problem, said Michael A. Kelley, an attorney who represented the business in front of the commission.
The business had hired an outside promoter to market the adult swim party, Kelley said. The promoter told Fun-Plex to expect a crowd of about 500, but more like 2,000 people showed up.
In addition to the violation involving the minors, Omaha police responded to an assault in the Fun-Plex parking lot the night of the event.
“They were overwhelmed,” Kelley said. “They didn’t have adequate security. They admitted that, but it’s not going to happen again.”
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