Miles to Go: City shrugs off broken vertebrae and destruction of evidence

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Miles to Go:
City shrugs off broken vertebrae and destruction of evidence
Omaha City Council waits for courts and LCC to fill the leadership void

On May 18th, 2021, the Omaha City Council had the opportunity to send a strong message that it will not tolerate businesses selling alcohol to underage youth due to the serious harms that can result.

The Good Life Sports Bar & Grill, located on 180th and Pacific, had been cited for selling alcohol to minors, allowing minors to consume/possess alcohol, and serving an intoxicated person. Testimony provided at the council hearing indicated that a group of underage youth were served alcohol at the bar on December 25th, 2020 – a charge that the owner did not dispute at the hearing. Indeed, former employees indicated underage drinking happened regularly.

The May 18th hearing was on a resolution brought forward by the city’s law department that would have set in motion a formal hearing to consider revoking the bar’s liquor license. In one of the more shocking cases in recent memory, the law department also detailed the bar’s lack of cooperation with law enforcement, attempt to interfere with the investigation, and destruction of evidence in the case involving a 20-year-old who drank there with his underage friends and then went on to crash his car under the influence of alcohol, breaking three vertebrae. 

Despite the strength of the evidence submitted by the law department and the Omaha Police Department, the bar’s attorney was able to successfully make the case that the city was overreacting for a first sale to minor at this location and that the council should hear from the information technology specialist, who the law department claimed deleted the video evidence at the bar owner’s request, prior to moving forward with a revocation hearing. Essentially, the council should wait until the criminal cases are adjudicated.

However, the city council can act independently of the criminal justice system on liquor licensing issues, a point the city’s own law department attempted to convey to the council. The city’s law and police departments did their due diligence to make sure the business was held accountable, but the council opted to abdicate its authority to take local action following this incident. In our view, the council failed to send a strong message to the community that selling alcohol to minors, particularly when it involves injuries and deaths, is a serious offense that warrants immediate consequences.

In the end, the city council unintentionally sent a message that selling alcohol to minors isn’t really that big of a deal – even if the sale results in serious injuries – and blatant disregard for law enforcement and destroying evidence doesn’t call for immediate action. Indeed, the Omaha City Attorney noted that waiting for the courts to resolve the issue could take up to a year. Meanwhile, the owner of this location operates several other Good Life locations, and a new establishment is currently under construction in Gretna.

Sadly, this is par for the course. Business interests often take priority over public health and safety in our state. Revocation of liquor licenses is extremely rare, even in instances where injury and death have occurred following a retailer’s negligence. Instead of recognizing the gravity of the situation and moving forward with a formal hearing, the council is hoping either the courts or the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission will do the council's job and protect the city and its citizens from businesses like The Good Life that endanger public health and safety.