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Back Bar co-owner to appeal sanction

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
April 5, 2012
— A co-owner of The Back Bar is taking his case to the Janesville City Council after the alcohol license advisory committee recommended Tuesday that the bar suspend live music for four months.

The owners of the bar at 1901 Beloit Ave. called the reprimand an unfair penalty that came out of nowhere and unfairly targets hip-hop music. The owners' son on a Facebook posting called the decision racial profiling and stereotyping.


ALAC Chairman Matt Schreier said the action is not racist, but he said certain kinds of music have the potential to cause problems. Schreier said co-owner Bob Kerman didn't seem to take seriously his Tuesday appearance before the ALAC.


Bob Kerman said he is a serious Janesville businessman who was treated unprofessionally by the committee.


Deputy Chief Dan Davis recommended the sanction and cited two recent, serious incidents.


In February, police investigated a complaint of sexual assault. A subsequent investigation found that three people who were not employees and not licensed were in the bar after hours.


Bob Kerman told police the people were too intoxicated to leave, and he allowed them to stay to sober up. Davis said police later discovered that sexual activity had occurred on site.


On March 24, Davis said, the bar hosted a hip-hop artist who brought along armed security. At about 1:22 a.m., a fight inside the bar moved outside, someone went to a car and fired a gun, Davis said.


No one was hurt, and no damage was reported.


It's a red flag for police when any artist, whatever the genre, believes he or she needs armed security to perform, Davis said. That might not be the best act to bring into the city, he said.


Police checked the bar's future bookings and found a reggae event that police say promotes marijuana use, and they found an appearance by porn actress Joanna Angel.


Davis said when he tried to meet with Kerman about the issues, "the conversation didn't get very far."


Schreier, himself a bar owner, said he had a hard time with the vote because it would limit an owner's rights of operation and could create financial hardship.


He acknowledged it might seem to come from "left field," especially when compared to the downtown bar Quotes, which has had numerous police calls and many reprieves with no sanctions.


Schreier said The Back Bar incidents are serious, and he can't remember the last time a shot was fired downtown.


"That's an alarming thing to happen," Schreier said.


He acknowledged the gun was not fired on bar property but noted it was related to the fight inside the bar.


"I guess the issue that alarmed everybody was the need for a security team to be there," Schreier said.


Police believe the worrisome activity is related to the type of live music, Schreier said.


"I can see where (Bob Kerman) thinks we're picking on him" Schreier said.


But Bob Kerman appeared to be "very flippant" about the situation when he appeared in front of the ALAC and didn't appear to want to work with police, unlike other bar owners who appear before the committee, Schreier said.


Some committee members thought Bob Kerman's testimony contained inconsistencies, Schreier said.


"I really wish it had gone in a different direction," Schreier said.


Schreier said the decision has nothing to do with race.


"It's all about the music, the atmosphere," he said.


Other types of music also can cause shifts in the environment, he said.


Diane Kerman, co-owner of The Back Bar, said the sanction is severe and that the business could close as a result.


"We're a live-music venue," she said.


The recommendation came "completely out of nowhere," and she pointed to Quotes, which at one time recently claimed 42 percent of police calls to bars. Quotes remains open while her bar has no history before the ALAC, she said.


Bob Kerman said he would add 16 cameras around the bar's perimeter to improve surveillance. He said he has a lot of pride in his business and is insulted by the way he was treated by the ALAC.


If the council decides against the Kermans, they could request an official hearing.



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