MICHIGAN CITY – The mayor's office and Indiana State Excise Police are investigating the late-night "inspection" of a local tavern that led to a firestorm of outrage on social media over the involvement of Michigan City Police officers.
In the early morning of Sunday, June 23, the Indiana State Excise Police requested the assistance of the Michigan City Police Department to accompany them to Local Option Bar & Grill at 1714 Franklin St. for an inspection, according to a statement from the mayor's office.
A video of the incident – posted on YouTube by the bar owner's daughter – showed patrons lining up and handing their identification to one of several MCPD officers, who were running computer checks on the IDs.
Patrons were then asked to leave the premises, according to the video. The officers on the video never explained what they were looking for, only that it was at the request of Excise Police.
The video was removed from YouTube a couple days after the incident, but can still be found on social media, and reaction has run the gamut from calling it a "civil rights violation" to "police gone rogue."
Manna Carter, who originally posted the video, said in a Facebook post she took it down "out of respect for my dad and his business. There has been way too much speculation flying around regarding the reason for the police raid..."
But she still finds the incident problematic.
"If this was all done under the authority of Excise, show us some paperwork that says patrons are to be detained and checked for warrants. ... Not that Excise has the power to override the Fourth Amendment, but someone ordered this illegal detainment and we deserve an honest answer as to who it was," she said Wednesday.
"People are angry, as they should be. And we have had enough of our police and politicians lying, abusing power, and breaking the law."
Since the inspection, "the Mayor’s Office has been receiving numerous questions and concerns regarding that inspection based on a video that was posted by a patron on social media," the statement said.
"The Mayor’s Office is investigating this matter. In addition, the Indiana State Excise Police, who were the lead agency on the inspection of Local Option, are conducting their own internal investigation and review," the statement said.
A spokesman for the Indiana Alcohol and Beverage Commission confirmed the incident is being investigated, but would not comment specifically on what happened.
"The Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission is aware of the events that took place at the Local Option bar in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 23," Lindsay Hyer, commission counsel and director of communications, said in an email.
"The superintendent of the Indiana State Excise Police has ordered an internal investigation of this incident, which has commenced, but has not yet concluded," Hyer said. When it is, "the results will be provided to the chairman of the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission for review."
However, "Due to the nature of the investigation, we cannot provide additional comments at this time," she said.
MCPD spokesman Sgt. Chris Yagelski said last week that Excise Police "have the right to go into any bar or establishment serving alcohol and inspect." He said Excise Police generally ask the local police department to help with such inspections, and no local reports are filed.
The inspection at Local Option was to check IDs, and no one was arrested, Yagelski said. "They were all 21 and legal to drink."
He said numerous calls were received by MCPD in the days after the incident, some claiming the bar owner's rights, and the rights of patrons, were violated. But compliance with such inspections is a requirement of anyone who receives a state license to serve alcohol, Yagelski said.
"They can come in and inspect the coolers, the bar, the employees, the patrons ... That's a right you give up when you own a bar."
Carter thinks the incident was a clear violation of the 4th Amendment.
"Excise checks IDs all the time ... that is not at all what happened here. Excise can do their thing. Check the licenses. Check the liquor. Check IDs for age and validity. Please, do your job. Bring the police with you if you feel so inclined.
"However, there is absolutely no need for 11 cops inside the bar ... and it is never OK to line up everyone in the establishment and demand identifications for the purposes of warrant checking. Period."
She said it might be different if there were several intoxicated people in the bar that night, but, "Everyone was quiet, no one had been overserved ... it was a calm night like any other at Local. It's not a place known for trouble, as some have said in defense of the police. There was absolutely no reason for what they did."
In a Facebook post, the bar management said it did not condone the negative remarks being made on social media.
"We here at Local Option would like to thank our patrons and the public for your concerns and comments on the events that took place here," the post read. "That being said, we do not support nor condone the negativity and hatred that is being spread on social media.
"We do not want this type of publicity. Any comments that have been, and probably will continue to be expressed are not those of Local Option or its employees. We are just trying to go about our normal business. Thank you."