Monday, July 28, 2014
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Elmer Smith: Bar-closing process nothing to Cheers about

IN THE OLD days, the guy wearing Mike Chitwood's badge would have kicked the door open, fired two shots into the tin ceiling and cleared the joint.

Things are a lot nicer now, at least on Chitwood's side of the law. You have to dot your I's and cross your T's before you can shut down a saloon, even a saloon that serves up more felonies than beer.

So Chitwood, Upper Darby's superintendent of police, and a posse that included officers from the Delaware County District Attorney's office, the state Liquor Control Board and the State Police staged a raid at Cheers Cocktail Lounge, a notorious watering hole in the 6800 block of Market Street, in Upper Darby.

"We were in there Friday night," Chitwood said. "We locked up two people for drugs and issued three underage drinking citations."

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  • They also managed to shut the joint down. But it wasn't for the homicides, or the repeated drug arrests, underage drinking citations or the stabbings, bludgeoning and other assorted assaults that have happened in and around Cheers.

    "We closed them down for health-code violations," said Tom Judge, chief administrative officer for Upper Darby Township.

    This is akin to locking up Al Capone on tax evasion. But, whatever works.

    Problem is, the place could reopen in a week or two, depending on how long it takes to wash the gunk off the glasses and spray for vermin.

    But the vermin that really needs cleaning up at Cheers is not hiding in the baseboards. They do their business in the open, judging by all the arrests there in recent months. They have hauled so many people out of there, living and dead, that the Liquor Control Board has declined to renew their license.

    "There have been approximately 134 incidents of disturbances at or immediately adjacent to your licensed establishment," the Liquor Control Board wrote in a letter serving notice on Robert Herdelin, the bar's owner.

    The activity, the LCB wrote, "includes but is not limited to disorderly crowds, assaults, fights, drugs, shootings and wanted persons."

    The category "not limited to" includes the murder of Tyrik Richardson. His bullet-riddled body was found in a men's room, where he had been shot eight times in a barrage of semiautomatic weapons fire 10 days ago.

    "So, now, I've got another homicide there," Chitwood lamented. "How long will it be before we can get this place shut down?

    "The LCB sent that letter out in November and they still haven't had a hearing. Do I have to wait until there are two more homicides?"

    There is no easy answer to Chitwood's anguished plea.

    Francesca Chapman, a Liquor Control Board spokeswoman, told me that the LCB hearing is scheduled for May 4.

    "We have told the folks at Cheers that we won't be renewing their license," she said. "The bar owner objected.

    "A hearing will be held on May 4. A hearing examiner will give a report to our board, which can then vote to renew or revoke. But the code provides owners a chance to appeal, during which the bar may stay open.

    "It can be a lengthy process."

    In fact, the owner can appeal the LCB ruling to Common Pleas Court. And if he doesn't like that ruling, he can take his pleadings to an appellate court.

    Meanwhile, the felony counts could continue to pile up, unless those fearsome storm troopers from the Health Department step in and cite the place again.

    "We just don't have the authority to shut it down," Chapman said. "There is a quicker way. The D.A. could close it under the code for nuisance bars."

    A D.A.'s spokesman was unavailable for comment. But nothing that Chitwood knew about that process offered him much solace.

    "The D.A. is pursuing that angle," Chitwood said "But even if he devoted his whole staff to it, it will still take six months to shut it down."

    Or he could kick the doors open, fire a couple of rounds into the ceiling and clear the joint.

    Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns:

    http://go.philly.com/smith

     

    Elmer Smith Daily News Opinion Columnist
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