Town of Milton puts hip-hop dance parties under microscope

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, September 25, 2013

TOWN OF MILTON—The town of Milton could enact a demerit point system allowing it to formally call bar owners to task for liquor license violations.

The catalyst: A handful of recent hip-hop dance parties at the Countryside Inn, 1801 E. Highway 59. One such event held June 22 involved a shooting in the bar's parking lot, prompting the Rock County Sheriff's Office to blanket the area with deputies being paid overtime whenever the bar holds such events.

Since the shooting, the bar has held at least two more dance parties: one July 26 and another Aug. 30.

Rock County Sheriff's Office Capt. Jude Maurer and Town of Milton Police Chief Tom Kunkel are pushing the town to create a set of rules and a demerit system for tavern liquor license violations similar to one in place in Madison and in neighboring Fulton, officials say.

The set of rules, which the town board will discuss Oct. 14, would allow the board to review reports of tavern liquor license violations and parse out demerit points as necessary. Bars with excessive demerits could lose their liquor licenses, Maurer said.

The rules also could put in place a safety and security plan for when bars hold events expected to bring in large crowds, such as dance parties or live concerts, Maurer said.

A single serious event, such as a stabbing or large fight, could prompt a review by the board and lead to liquor license demerits, Maurer said.

Now, the town has no system in place to handle tavern complaints under due process. The rules would create that process, Maurer said.

The demerit plans have riled up Countryside Inn owner Rich Erdman, who said Wednesday he feels the town and sheriff's office are targeting him because it doesn't want parties that draw hip-hop music and black people.

Erdman claims that in seven years his bar has only had one warning for a fire code violation. That was in 2010 when he was slammed for having too many patrons at a wrestling match at the bar.

Erdman said he regrets the June 22 shooting, which he said might have happened after two women and a man had a relationship squabble outside at bar time. Two men apparently jumped into the fight, which led to shots fired, according to police reports and Erdman's own account.

On the night of the shooting, Erdman said he had several security guards checking purses, bags and IDs and “scanning people in.”

Since then, he said he's heightened security during hip-hop dance parties, with “about 20” security guards watching the bar's exits, entrances and bathrooms, along with videotape equipment inside the bar and out.

“It's terrible it (the shooting) happened. But it was a love triangle thing and somebody got shot in the butt a couple of times,” Erdman said. “Now they're sending teams of sheriffs to our place to scare customers.”

The increased police presence at Countryside Inn has come, Maurer said, because someone was shot at Countryside Inn, and the shooting just happened to be during a hip-hop dance event. Also, Maurer said, a Newville gas station complained that crowds from one of Erdman's dance party mobbed the station and shoplifted alcohol.

When police learned that Erdman planned to continue holding similar events, the sheriff's office decided to patrol the parties heavily with eight deputies each night.

“When you have gunshots at a bar during an event, that tends to put the place high on your radar screen,” Maurer said.

During the dance party events held July 26 and Aug. 30, Maurer said the only arrest was for disorderly conduct between two patrons. However, Madison police believe a July 27 shooting in Madison might have been payback from the June 22 shooting at Countryside Inn.

Maurer said it has cost the county $2,000 to run “taxpayer-funded event security” at the bar's hip-hop events, something he said taxpayers might not appreciate. He said the sheriff's office would continue to blanket the Countryside Inn with deputies at any future dance parties.

But the sheriff's office is limited as to how it can enforce what types of events bars hold. For instance, Maurer said, promoters and musicians don't have to be licensed to hold a dance party event.

Now, Erdman doesn't have to seek permission to hold events that operate within rules for bar curfew, noise ordinances and occupancy rules. Maurer said he's asked Erdman to communicate with the town and the county when he plans to hold large events, particularly dance parties.

Erdman said he doesn't have any dance parties scheduled any time soon. He said he continued to hold the dance parties earlier this year because he was honoring an agreement with a promoter—and because they're lucrative events, with cover charges of $20 or more per person.

Erdman said he's sat down with Milton town Chairman Bryan Meyer to discuss his feelings of being targeted by a liquor license demerit system. He said he feels the township and Kunkel just don't want events that are perceived to bring in aggressive hip-hop music and black people from out of town.

“They don't want this kind of music, and they don't want the race issue, the black people,” Erdman said. “They want to throw all of that on my back.”

Repeated attempts by The Gazette to reach Kunkel this week were unsuccessful, and Meyer could not be reached for comment.

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