Our Views: Things must change at Countryside Inn in town of Milton

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

One shooting at one bar that wounds a man, though disturbing, does not signal a trend.

A second shooting that injures another man within months at the same bar, however, comes much closer to a trend. It should prompt all parties—owner, law enforcement and elected officials—to ensure a third doesn’t happen.

The Milton Town Board is right to call Countryside Inn owner Rich Erdman to a hearing Thursday to review whether his tavern’s activities violate state statutes and warrant liquor license suspension. Triggering the summons is a complaint filed Monday that alleges “disorderly and riotous” behavior linked to dance parties at the bar on Highway 59.

Erdman seemed to deserve a pass after the first shooting, which occurred as a hip-hop dance party wrapped up last June 22 and left a man with three torso wounds. After all, the gunfire happened in the parking lot and appeared to involve two Dane County men in a lovers’ triangle. Rather than a gang incident, this appeared to be a relationship quarrel that could have erupted anywhere.

Erdman’s hip-hop parties attract crowds, particularly from bigger cities, and reap him handsome profits. Unruliness often follows this aggressive music, however, and a nearby gas station complained that a crowd swamped the business and shoplifted alcohol. Extra patrols seemed sensible, but after that first shooting, the Rock County Sheriff’s Office said it would send eight deputies to the next two such events.

That seemed like an excessive use of public money to police a private business. However, evidence the sheriff’s office compiled after this second shooting Jan. 26 suggests otherwise.

Erdman’s security staff wasn’t sufficient. Sheriff’s officials say two deputies were called around bar time to help. After they left, an officer the town had hired to monitor the party recalled them when a fight broke out in the bar. Deputies say two more fights erupted, dividing their attention.

A Madison man later told authorities he was shot in the leg at a Milton tavern. He described the fights in enough detail, and authorities listened to 911 calls and talked to enough witnesses, that they believe he was shot outside the Countryside Inn.

Erdman questions that and says security cameras outside the doors don’t show clear signs of a shooting.

He’ll have his chance to dispute law enforcement’s evidence Thursday and present his own. If the town board thinks evidence doesn’t warrant a license suspension under state statutes, it should expedite plans to enact a demerit system that could lead to sanctions or revocation for any tavern that violates liquor license terms.

Shootings are alarming, and so are the sheriff’s office reports on the Jan. 26 event. It’s fortunate no one has died. Set aside arguments that pulling the plug on the parties would somehow be racist because hip-hop music tends to attract black people.

Generally speaking, rules shouldn’t quash opportunities for businesses to make money. But after two shootings and the need to spend too many tax dollars to maintain safety, either Erdman should wise up and drop plans to host more such parties or the town board should do whatever it can to prevent them.

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