The Chattanooga beer board went off the beaten path Thursday when it gave a two-week beer sales suspension to Sky Zoo at 5709 Lee Highway after Chattanooga police set out to show a "pattern" of drunk drivers leaving the Brainerd nightclub.
It's one of the few times the beer board — which typically cites bars, restaurants and stores for serving underage drinkers — has punished a business for customers driving under the influence.
"Our job is to reduce crashes and save lives," said Lt. Austin Garrett, the police department's Tactical and Traffic Operations Commander who initiated a new emphasis on having patrol officers try to figure out where DUI offenders had been drinking.
Then, the name of the bar or restaurant to blame gets forwarded to police Officer John Collins, who's assigned to the beer board. He works with Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman to look for a pattern of DUIs.
Police spent almost three hours Thursday building their case against Sky Zoo — over the objections of the nightclub's Chattanooga attorney, Doug Cox, who called the meeting "a circus."
Police alleged that seven DUIs originated at Sky Zoo, starting in October.
Dash camera footage
Officers took turns at the podium and played patrol car dash camera footage on a big screen in city council chambers where the beer board meets.
The footage included one driver of a Dodge Magnum sedan who said he'd had "maybe six beers" after being pulled over at 3:23 a.m. on Dec. 1 by Officer Michael Terry.
"Where were y'all at?" Terry asks.
"Sky Zoo," replied the driver, who had a blood alcohol level of 0.149 percent, almost twice the legal limit.
Sky Zoo's attorney made a number of objections, including that servers at the bar don't know if a customer is going to drive or be a passenger.
"How do you know who's driving before you serve them?" Cox asked.
Cox, who promised to appeal the suspension of Sky Zoo's beer sales, also said police didn't see Sky Zoo's employees overserving intoxicated customers.
"Is there any evidence that anyone at Sky Zoo served him when he was visibly intoxicated?" Cox asked of the Dodge Magnum's driver. "On the video, itself, it didn't look like he was 'bombed.'"
'Got to do something'
Beer board members didn't penalize Sky Zoo for each of the seven cases police presented.
For example, there was no penalty for an Oct. 26 arrest when Officer Terry saw a drunk driver pull out of Sky Zoo's parking lot. Officer Terry didn't have a record of the driver saying he'd been drinking at Sky Zoo.
"Maybe he just turned around in the parking lot," beer board member Trevor Atchley said.
However, Atchley, who's a lawyer, agreed with Assistant City Attorney Reisman that the beer board just needed a preponderance of evidence — not proof beyond a reasonable doubt — to establish a pattern of DUIs from an establishment.
Beer board member Chris Keene said, "When seven people are suspiciously coming from one place, intoxicated, we've got to do something."
The police should have built a stronger case against Sky Zoo, argued beer board member Andre Harriman. He voted against suspending Sky Zoo's beer sales.
The beer board gave Sky Zoo a series of beer sales suspensions that will start on Jan. 18 and run through Feb. 1.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.