The Inevitable Success of the “Saturday Night Massacre”

When it comes to nightclub stings, cops almost always get their man.

Maybe there are some people who were shocked that police were able to walk into 14 nightclubs over the past two weeks and find a range of violations—including admitting minors, overservice, and, in a couple of cases, letting undercover officers in with guns—but not local lawyers Tom Nast and Dave Osgood.

"You could go to any establishment in town and find a violation," says Nast, who defended the Blue Moon Tavern recently when its beer and wine license was in jeopardy over accusations that it was a haven for drug peddling (the Moon has since obtained a full liquor license). "It just depends where you want to go."

He points to testimony by Seattle police officer Eric Chartrand at a November 2005 Washington State Liquor Control Board hearing concerning the Blue Moon. "You've never been...on a buy-bust operation in a tavern in the University District where you didn't have a successful buy?" asked Nast, in the midst of cross-examining Chartrand. "I personally have not," the officer replied.

Osgood, who also defended the Blue Moon and is currently representing Tabella Restaurant and Lounge (one of the clubs nailed in last weekend's sting), says that six or seven years ago he deposed an enforcement agent for the Liquor Control Board, who conceded that he also met with favorable odds on such operations, though not quite as good as Chartrand's. "He said he can walk into any place and find a violation 50 percent of the time," Osgood recalls.

Liquor Control Board spokesperson Brian Smith says he can't comment on such a deposition without seeing it, but maintains that the agency's enforcement agents "go out every single day" and find establishments that are in total compliance. When similarly asked whether violations could be found pretty much anywhere, Seattle Police Department spokesperson Mark Jamieson replies: "Maybe. But, you know, where do you draw the line? You can't go to all the places that serve liquor. These were the places that were deemed by everybody involved [meaning law enforcement officers and the city attorney's office] as being the most problematic."

Where do you draw the line? That's a question Nast says concerns him if the mayor's proposed city licensing of nightclubs goes into effect. The mayor is pushing for the licenses in part so that the city can quickly revoke them if problems surface at certain establishments. "If you accept the premise that you can find a violation in any establishment sooner or later," Nast argues, "then it becomes political: Who are we going to pick on?"

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