A 4th Bar Faces City Padlock

Police Note Drug Arrests, Shootings In Bid To Close Shirley's Honey Hole

August 08, 2009|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

It's 3 p.m. at Shirley's Honey Hole, a neighborhood bar in East Baltimore, and behind a locked door about 10 men - mostly retirees, all in their 60s and 70s - are sipping Budweisers, Coronas and mixed drinks in red plastic cups, a bottle of fruit juice standing by for refills.

Behind the bar are family pictures, white Christmas lights - and a letter from the Baltimore Police Department notifying 60-year-old owner Shirley Barner of the department's intention to shut the business down.

Police stipulated three incidents from June, including a shooting on the street outside that left five people injured and one dead, and drugs recovered from people inside and outside the bar.

On Friday, Barner's bar became the latest city business that police have identified in recent months as a public nuisance, initiating proceedings to padlock the business until the owners can come up with a safety plan deemed suitable by Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

And like the business owners before her, Barner, an East Baltimore bar owner for 30 years, says police are blaming her for something over which she has no control.

"Things happen all over the city; drugs [are] everywhere," she says. "I try to abide by what they ask me to do, but there's just so much I can do. I can't search people. It's not my job."

The shooting occurred June 20, after two men opened fire on a group of six men standing outside the bar in the 2300 block of E. Oliver St., a desolate stretch in the Broadway East community. Edward Patterson, 39, was killed.

About three weeks before that, police arrested five men at the bar who they believed were involved in drug dealing on the premises.

"Six people shot in a bar, that's not exactly a common occurrence," said Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman. "Another important part is that management has not made an effort to curtail the violence. There's been no proactive safety strategies or plans, so this is what this hearing is going to determine."

'We're older guys'

Barner says her patrons are mostly retirees. The business features a walk-up window where people can buy package goods, but the bar itself is behind a locked door that requires Barner to buzz people in. She said that's to keep "hoodlums" out.

"You can see us - we're older guys," said Pete Modlin, 76, a retired steel worker. "Ain't nobody carrying on in here."

Barner said that when people say they're going out to smoke, she takes them at their word. But she gets suspicious if they go out two or three times, and tells them to stay outside. Recently, she cleaned up the backyard of the business and set out some chairs so patrons could smoke out back, but she said the liquor board rejected that idea.

As for young people who deal drugs outside or in the store's vestibule, Barner said she's powerless.

"They don't listen to police, or their parents. How are they going to listen to me?" she said.

The incidents cited by police are not the first time the bar has run into trouble. According to liquor board records, a confidential informant told police in July 2005 that two men were using the bar's second floor to store heroin and cocaine for distribution on the streets. One bartender was also selling gel caps and vials of drugs for $10 each from behind the bar, the informant said.

The informant notified police when two men left the bar after picking up drugs, records say. Police approached their vehicle and recovered a black plastic bag containing 67 gel caps of heroin. A search and seizure warrant was executed on the business, where police found "pink top" vials and evidence of gambling, records say.

Armed with the information, the liquor board summoned Barner for a hearing. But the police officer in the case failed to appear, and the drug violation against the bar was dismissed. She paid a $100 fine for the gambling violation, records show.

The property is owned by Gilbert Sapperstein, a 76-year-old former city contractor who in 2005 was sentenced to 18 months in jail for his role in a scheme to steal $3.5 million from the city school system and its public works department. Records show he owns property across the city and has received numerous housing code violations over the years. But Barner said Sapperstein has no involvement in the operations of the bar. He could not be reached to comment.

3 shut down

Police have used the nuisance ordinance so far to shut down three businesses, two of which have reopened after submitting a public safety plan. One of them, Club 410, remains closed. Not long after appearing at a hearing to defend the club, operator Tomeka Harris was indicted in federal court as a co-conspirator of the Black Guerrilla Family gang.

Barner says she will fight to keep her bar open.

"The average business person would just go out of business, but I'm not the average business person."

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