Ruling due on liquor store

Violence may force vendor to close under city nuisance law

August 14, 2008|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III is expected to decide by Aug. 22 whether a North Avenue liquor store that authorities say is a haven for violence and drug dealing will be closed for a year.

Police officials held an administrative hearing yesterday for Linden Bar and Liquors, which was notified last month that it might be closed under the city's new public nuisance law because of criminal activity in and around the store.

During the hearing, police submitted into evidence nine incidents of violence and drug activity at the store, highlighting a July killing inside Linden Liquors that was recorded by the store's security camera. A DVD of the homicide and what police described as drug dealing was played during the hearing at police headquarters.

Col. Stephen Davis, representing Bealefeld, heard testimony from the Central District commander and City Councilman William H. Cole IV, both of whom said they have met several times with community leaders about activities inside the store.

Chang K. Yim, the store's owner, testified that he has taken steps over the past few months to curb the violence associated with his establishment, including hiring a security guard after the killing. Yim received support from dozens of Asian business owners and residents who packed an overflow room and watched the hearing via closed-circuit television.

Yim said that he doesn't allow drug dealing or guns in his store, although he added that he is now hesitant to call police after 911 logs were used against him in April when he went before the city liquor board. The board refused to renew the store's liquor license and ordered it sold for use elsewhere in the city, but a Circuit Court judge stayed the decision, allowing the business to remain open.

At yesterday's five-hour hearing, Yim said that some of the surrounding businesses, including a coin-operated laundry and takeout food store, "have the same issues I have."

But Maj. John Bailey, the district commander, singled out Linden Liquors as the source of the most drug calls in the district.

Bailey testified that he has been to the store about a dozen times since May 2007, and that drug dealing is rampant inside the store. Bailey said he told Yim in a January meeting that if Yim took care of the inside of the store, police would take care of the outside, and offered a list of suggestions, including hiring a security guard.

"If Mr. Yim had done what I asked him to do back in January, I wouldn't have had a murder," Bailey said.

Yim's lawyer, Peter A. Prevas, said there is no evidence of drug dealing taking place inside the store, adding that Yim is being made a scapegoat for political reasons.

Some residents in nearby Reservoir Hill and Bolton Hill have been trying to have the store shut down for months, saying drug activity is ruining the area.

"It was extremely unfortunate when a dad drowned his kids in that hotel, but I don't hear anyone claiming the hotel is a public nuisance," Prevas said, referring to a March 30 incident in an Inner Harbor hotel in which three children were killed. "There has got to be some connection that Mr. Yim did or did not do something."

If the commissioner decides to close Linden Liquors, it would be the first time the city has used the public nuisance law in more than 15 years. The law was revised this year, in part because loopholes had made it difficult to enforce.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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