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Austin American-Statesman, Ken Herman column

Austin American-Statesman - 12/23/2017

Dec. 23--An older bike messenger with Tourette syndrome and autism walked into a bar.

No joke. Really, no joke.

The incident is included in a proposed decision issued this month by state Administrative Law Judge Rebecca S. Smith in a case involving officialdom's challenge of the renewal of an alcoholic beverage license held by Bottom Bracket Social Club.

The San Antonio bar, opened in 2013, has had some travails but seems to have found a niche in the world of selling alcoholic beverages and providing entertainment for profit.

"This bar is insanely cute and has a great beer selection," a patron posted on the bar's Facebook page in 2016. "The bar staff is friendly (and attractive) and handled the crowd well."

And what's not to like about a business that, on its Facebook page, lists its general manager as Seymore Butts?

Well, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and San Antonio Police Department have found much not to like about Bottom Bracket, enough to make the case that its permits should not be renewed.

I'm making relatively short shrift of some previous history in order to get to the interesting part. But let's just say Bottom Bracket had previous problems, including a 2014 on-premises fight in which a cop was injured, that led to an 80-day suspension beginning in December 2016 of its alcoholic beverage permit.

So the authorities had their eyes on Bottom Bracket, which, cyclists will note, is named for a bicycle part. Bottom Bracket's owners have a background in the bike business. Owner Tito Bradshaw testified, according to the judge's report, that Bottom Bracket "was established as a hub for the arts and bicycling communities in San Antonio. The three co-owners also owned a bicycle repair business and now own a bicycle shop."

According to the proposed decision, Bradshaw said the bar's three owners had no bar ownership experience prior to opening Bottom Bracket, "and there was a steep learning curve regarding taxes and laws."

When Bottom Bracket tried to renew its mixed beverage and mixed beverage late hours permits, TABC and the San Antonio cops opposed the renewal, contending the "place or manner in which Bottom Bracket would operate the premises would be against the general welfare, health, peace, morals and safety of the community and the public sense of decency."

A San Antonio cop and TABC agents testified about bad stuff they say has happened at Bottom Bracket, including the 2014 fight that led to the permit suspension.

Let's focus on alleged improprieties that TABC Agent J.J. Cruz testified he saw at Bottom Bracket on March 24, 2017, when, according to the judge's report, "he saw a man walking very slowly and stiffly, as if he was trying to concentrate on standing up straight."

"Agent Cruz believed that these were signs of intoxication. Agent Cruz testified that he saw Mr. Bradshaw sell this patron a Lone Star beer. He testified that he followed the patron to the patio, where he kept looking at the wall," Judge Smith wrote, adding that Cruz notified fellow TABC agents that he believed he saw Bradshaw sell a beer to an intoxicated patron.

TABC Agent Roberto Charles then approached said patron. Back to the judge's account: "(Charles) testified that as soon as he approached the patron and identified himself as being with TABC, the patron said he hadn't done anything wrong. According to Agent Charles, such a statement is evidence of wrongdoing."

Because I want you to read that again, I'm going to type it again:

"(Charles) testified that as soon he approached the patron and identified himself as being with TABC, the patron said he hadn't done anything wrong. According to Agent Charles, such a statement is evidence of wrongdoing."

Wow. So remember, never tell law enforcement folks you didn't do anything wrong. Some of them seem to think that means you did.

But let's continue. The judge's report says Charles testified the patron showed signs of intoxication, provided his driver's license when asked for ID but was not asked to do "standardized field sobriety tests."

In the "Bottom Bracket's evidence" section, the judge wrote: "As for the allegation that (Bradshaw) served an intoxicated person, he testified that the patron was someone he has known for 10 years. The patron, who is in his forties, is the oldest bicycle delivery messenger in San Antonio. Additionally, the patron has Tourette Syndrome and autism. Mr. Bradshaw described him as an odd guy who moves oddly and who is not a normally-social person, but he feels comfortable and accepted at Bottom Bracket."

"Mr. Bradshaw testified that on the night in question, the patron had just arrived and had only one beer, as shown by the video of the incident. Mr. Bradshaw added that the patron did not seem intoxicated when he arrived."

The bottom line at Bottom Bracket is the owners conceded they had sold alcoholic beverages while its permit was under suspension. But the judge believed the owners' defense that they had "misinterpreted" the suspension order and didn't intend to violate it.

The judge recommended a 20-day suspension, far below the 90 days sought by TABC for violating the previous suspension. And the judge noted in her proposed decision that in a previous ruling it had been decided that previous conduct, including the 2014 fight, did not justify the revocation TABC staff had sought.

And there was this about the bike messenger who bought a beer at Bottom Bracket:

"Given Mr. Bradford's testimony about the patron and his behavior, (TABC) did not establish that he was intoxicated, particularly given the absence of any kind of objective testing, such as standardized field sobriety tests."

The judge wrote she found "no evidence of other problems with Bottom Bracket since the suspension period, which suggests that the owners of Bottom Bracket learned lessons from their suspension."

There also was a little problem with profane Facebook comments by the owners about law enforcement officials. But the judge said she "does not view statements that express negative views of SAPD or TABC, even profane statements, to be the basis for denying permit."

Free speech rocks, even stupid, profane free speech.

"Bottom Bracket's permit should be renewed," Smith concluded in the proposed decision that now goes to TABC for action.

Nothing earth-shattering here. Just another battle over a mixed beverage permit and its impact on "the general welfare, health, peace, morals and safety of the community and the public sense of decency." But it does offer an interesting glimpse into how things work. Or more properly, how they sometimes don't work.


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