After-hours parties at group’s south Phoenix location tied to frequent officer calls, liquor-license violations
by Jahna Berry – Dec. 2, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
A Phoenix Elk’s lodge with ties to Councilman Michael Johnson has been cited repeatedly for liquor-license violations and is a magnet for illegal, late-night activity, police documents show.
An Arizona Republic investigation found that since January, police have been called more than 50 times to the William H. Patterson Improved and Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World at 1007 S. Seventh Ave. That includes a Nov. 7 incident in which police officers found after-hours drinking violations, according to state records.
Other police calls included more than a dozen incidents of alleged liquor-license violations, suspected fights and possible gunfire.
Also last month, the lodge’s kitchen was closed and the electrical power was shut off due to code violations.
On Tuesday, the Elks withdrew an application for a special-event liquor license for an annual toy drive that city council was expected to vote on today. The Police Department had recommended against granting it because of “repeated criminal acts.”
In an interview, Johnson, a former Phoenix police officer, downplayed his ties to the organization, saying he knows of no criminal investigation or complaints about the lodge, other than the recent code violations. Johnson is one of four Elks members named on the lodge’s state liquor license, Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control records show.
“I am still a member,” Johnson said. “I am not an officer or anything or haven’t really been actively involved in, like, three or four years.”
The 85-year-old south Phoenix Elks group is known for community outreach, especially to poor children. The average age of a member is mid-60s, the group’s outgoing president, Virgil Turman, said.
Since the 1970s, a major source of lodge revenue has been weekend dance events and non-alcoholic after-hours parties that start at 2 a.m.
Those events can draw hundreds of people, and rowdy crowds of much younger non-Elks, to the south Phoenix neighborhoods near the lodge.
A police spokesman declined to comment on Tuesday because an officer was expected to testify about the Elks special-event liquor-license application at today’s City Council meeting. After the item was pulled from the council agenda, a police representative could not be reached for response late Tuesday.
Records from the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control show that the Elks lodge paid a $250 fine in February for serving alcohol to non-members or guests of members. The group paid $1,000 for the same offense in July.
Since 1996 the lodge has been cited seven times for violating state liquor laws, including for selling alcohol between 1 and 6 a.m., gambling and selling liquor to patrons who are not Elks members or Elks guests.
Loiterers to blame?
The lodge has had past liquor-license problems but they were resolved, said Turman. The problem isn’t the after-hours parties, it’s the crowd that hangs out in the lodge parking lot and surrounding streets during the events, he said.
The lodge hired five off-duty police officers to provide security at the lodge parking lot on weekends.
The off-duty officers can’t do much about people who linger off lodge property, Turman added.
Patrons can only buy fruit juice, water and soda at after-hours events, Turman stressed.
Residents put up with noisy rows of parked cars, public urination and sometimes, outdoor dice games, said Julian Sodari, president of the Grant Park Neighborhood Coalition.
Neighbors have met with police, but Sodari said he hasn’t spoken with Johnson.
Johnson is a longtime member of Lodge No. 477 and was the president from 1996 to 2006.
Turman said Johnson goes to monthly Elks meetings and advised the group about how to handle its recent troubles with the city at the November meeting.
Johnson said that he was unaware that he was still on the lodge’s liquor license, because he was supposed to be removed several years ago.
People on an establishment’s liquor license “have a voice in how the premise is run and you are responsible for what happens on the premises,” said Lee Hill, spokeswoman for the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.