Countryside Inn owner's liquor license on the line

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

TOWN OF MILTON—In the wake of reports of repeated violence and a pair of apparent shootings at his tavern, Countryside Inn owner Rich Erdman's liquor license could be on the line.

The Milton Town Board voted Monday to issue Erdman a summons for a hearing next week to weigh a complaint filed Monday. The complaint alleges “disorderly and riotous” behavior linked to a string of dance parties Erdman has held in the last seven months at his bar located at 1801 Highway 59, Milton.

At the hearing, which is slated Thursday, Feb. 20, the board will review whether activities at Erdman's tavern violate state statutes and if they warrant possible suspension of his liquor license, town board Chairman Bryan Meyer said.

Town of Milton police officer and town resident Justin Mahan-Strupp filed the complaint, which comes on the heels of a reported shooting outside the bar on Jan. 26. Police say the incident left a 28-year-old Madison man hospitalized with a gunshot injury to his leg.

That incident follows an earlier shooting outside the bar after a dance party June 22, 2013, which left a man with gunshot injuries to his torso, police said.

At Monday's meeting, Erdman listened to Rock County Sheriff's Capt. Jude Maurer tick off a list of allegations of fights, violence and disorderly activity that have risen out of dance parties at the bar.

Maurer briefed the board on police and witness accounts surrounding the apparent Jan. 26 shooting, and laid out evidence he said shows Erdman's choice of entertainment, which Maurer called “hip-hop music events,” as a breeding ground for violence.

Maurer used accounts from the tavern Jan. 26 to paint a picture of out-of-control fighting that distracted multiple officers during the time the shooting was thought to have happened.  He said two sheriff's deputies had been called to the tavern at around bar time to aid event security in shutting music down and announcing last call.

Maurer said the deputies then left, but returned when a town of Milton officer the town had contracted to monitor the party called them to assist with a fight that broke out in the bar as dozens of patrons were being ushered out.

As deputies were dealing with that fight, another one broke out near a pool table. While deputies were dealing with that fight, another broke out in the bar's kitchen area, Maurer said.

Patrons in the first two scuffles fled while police were struggling with the third fight, Maurer said.

The man who was shot told Madison and Rock County police investigators he'd been at a bar near Milton and witnessed two fights—one by a front door and one by a pool table, Maurer said. The man said he made his way outside, lit a cigarette, and felt a sudden pain in his leg that caused him to collapse on the ground.

That, pain, police believe, came when he was shot. Maurer said a witness, who he would not name pending an “open investigation,” of the apparent shooting, saw a man who was involved in another argument outside the tavern reach into his pocket.

The witness reportedly saw a “muzzle flash” from a gun, Maurer said.

Erdman has questioned whether the shooting even happened at his tavern, citing a lack of police reports from the incident and saying his security cameras outside the tavern don't show clear signs of a shooting.    

Maurer sought to cut off Erdman's claims, playing two Rock County 911 call recordings he said are from witnesses who claim they saw people waving guns and heard gunshots.

Maurer said the man who was shot gave an incriminating description of the melees that broke out at the Countryside Inn. He said it should offer enough proof that the man was at the tavern at the time of the apparent shooting.

“To my knowledge there were no other fights at a Milton bar by the front door and at a pool table,” Maurer said.   

Maurer said since the June 22 shooting, Erdman has notified police in advance of his dance parties, Erdman also has hired security and conducts metal detector checks at the door, Maurer said.

But Maurer said Erdman's dance parties have prompted police to spend extra time policing the area, including at nearby gas stations. The stations have reported thefts that seem to dovetail with crowds coming and going from dance parties at the bar, he said. 

“Whether it's cultural or other I don't know. We've had two shootings,” Maurer said. “It is my opinion that if Mr. Erdman does not change his business model either voluntarily or involuntarily, another shooting will occur, and hopefully it won't result in the death of an individual, or worse, a deputy.”

State statute allows Erdman to have a chance at the board hearing next week to “show cause why his (liquor) license should not be suspended,” Meyer said.

Erdman, who did not speak at Monday's meeting, told The Gazette he questions the complaint that sparked next week's hearing because it came from a police officer and not a “regular resident.” Erdman also said he is not convinced the Jan. 26 shooting occurred at his tavern.

Erdman said if it was the case that another shooting had happened at his tavern, “I wouldn't have another hip hop party.”

“Eight years and no citations, and now this,” he said. “It's railroading.”

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