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Harper Woods

May 30, 2013

Harper Woods starts process to revoke liquor license at local bar

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

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Harper Woods initiated a process toward revocation of Charlie’s Woods Saloon’s liquor license due to what they call ongoing problems at the bar.

HARPER WOODS — A shootout that took place in front of police outside Charlie’s Woods Saloon last month was the last straw in what police call a string of felony incidents at the Harper Woods bar.

Those felony incidents have ranged from a recent stabbing to people getting robbed outside the bar, and a person being shot on one occasion in the past year outside the establishment. Police have dealt with crowds and fights.

Public Safety Director James Burke referred to the bar situation as a nuisance in a letter to City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk, but said it’s more than that. He said he’s extremely concerned about safety.

“The incidents include aggravated assaults and weapons offenses that place our community and our police officers in danger,” Burke stated in the letter. “The latest incident … escalated this threat, and I believe the establishment’s license to do business needs to be revoked.”

In the letter, Burke states that they’ve had offenses inside and immediately outside the bar.

Burke said they have wanted to do something to clean up Kelly, which is adjacent to what has been called the most dangerous ZIP code in Detroit. This is part of those efforts.

The first step in the process toward revocation of the liquor license is to hold a hearing, which City Council agreed to do. That hearing is scheduled for June 3, after press time.

Tony Gjoka, bar manager and brother to the woman who owns the bar, said they plan to attend the hearing. He said the problems in that area are not a reflection of the management of the bar, but of the high crime rates in that part of the city.

“We didn’t bring the crime here in this area,” he said. “When we bought this place, the crime was already in this area. This is a high-crime area.”

“Ninety-nine percent of our customers are great, hardworking people,” he added.

He said the customers may have been targeted outside the bar by people who are not patrons of the bar.

“We’ve got a lot of gangs around here, probably,” Gjoka said. 

“We can’t control the crime outside,” he said, adding that issues arise in the parking lot area, which is a shared parking lot with a number of other businesses.

The family has run the bar for a couple of years, he said, adding that they had worked to get people who cause problems kicked out of the bar. He believes things were better up until the last month, with only a small number of fights reported in the bar in the two years his sister owned it.

He said they do call police when something happens that needs a police response. However, he said most of the issues are not inside the bar.

There have been multiple offenses reported to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, city officials said.

“It’s demanding resources, especially every weekend, of our Police Department,” Skotarczyk said.

The city’s never gone through the process to attempt to revoke a business’s license before, but other cities have taken these steps, city officials said.

The incident that led to the Police Department requesting action by the city took place at about 2:20 a.m. May 19 when police worked to disperse a crowd from the scene. Then they heard gunshots and saw a man firing shots toward the crowd before fleeing on foot.

“We had multiple shots being fired,” Burke said. “A gunfight erupted right in front of (police officers).”

Police caught the suspect who was fleeing and recovered a couple of handguns. There was evidence that at least two more people were firing guns during the incident.

“We had three people shooting at each other,” Burke said. “We’ve had an ongoing problem up there.”

After being issued notice of the hearing, more incidents have occurred at the bar, Burke said.

A woman was disturbing the peace by yelling near the bar one night, and someone was hit in the head with a rock in another recent incident. In a third recent incident, two women were robbed at gunpoint in the area as they were leaving the bar. Since they weren’t carrying their purses and the suspect thought they had money in their pants, he stole their pants.

Then, on Memorial Day night, police were called to St. John Hospital for a stabbing report. Police were told it happened at the bar. One person was in critical condition.

“We’re still investigating the circumstances of it,” Burke said.

In 2012, Burke said, they “had over 600 police runs to that address.”

Those runs ran the gamut from minor traffic offenses to a shooting incident last September.

Council member Valerie Kindle said she agreed with Burke’s request.

“We’re trying to clean up Kelly Road and I think this is a good step,” she said.

After the hearing, City Council would have the option of passing a resolution asking for the revocation of the liquor license, which would be sent to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

For an updated version of this story following the June 3 hearing, visit www.candgnews.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer April Lehmbeck at alehmbeck@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1043.