Salt Lake officials want to shut down a State Street night spot they say is overrun by drug traffickers, but an attorney for the tavern says the city wants the business to solve a drug problem the Salt Lake Police can't.
Knight Moves, 917 S. State, is up for renewal of a license to sell beer and other business licenses. License renewal is currently pending until a hearing process begun Wednesday is concluded, city Treasurer Buzz Hunt said.Hearing officer Janet Embry, who heard evidence from attorneys representing the city and the business, will recommend to Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis in 10 days whether licenses for Knight Moves should be renewed.
Salt Lake Police recommended Knight Moves be denied a new license, which the business needs to operate, because tavern owners are not taking measures to prevent the tavern from being a haven for cocaine and heroine users.
"These people are not willing to see that the law is obeyed," said Assistant City Attorney Larry Spendlove. "They're not entitled to a business license in Salt Lake City."
But Robert VanSciver, attorney for the business, said Knight Moves is faced with solving a drug problem that has eluded not only Salt Lake City police but is also plaguing the rest of the nation.
"We acknowledge drugs are a real problem," VanSciver said, "but we suspect revocation of this license would not result in a cessation of that practice (drug trafficking)."
During a yearlong undercover investigation, police officers made scores of drug buys at Knight Moves, Spendlove said. In July, an officer bought cocaine five times in less than an hour. More than 10 arrests made at Knight Moves in that period have resulted in convictions on felony drug charges, he said.
Last week, Salt Lake City Police Officer Don Cahoon and a partner went to the bar to do a "shake down" and seized more than $1,000 in cocaine and heroine, Cahoon said.
When Cahoon and his partner, both in uniform, entered the bar that night, patrons were obviously panicked, he said. "People started scampering; it was almost like turning on a light in a room full of cockroaches."
Nearby businessmen complained at the hearing that drug transactions occur outside their businesses and drug paraphernalia, such as needles and syringes, are scattered around the area.
But VanSciver said Knight Moves already has taken measures to curb drug trafficking and officials are expecting too much of the business to ask them to solve the problem alone.
"We think its placing an impossible burden on the business owner," he said. And given that drug trafficking persists despite arrests and police raids at Knight Moves, "it's obvious law enforcement has not been effective."
"Do you think it's unfair to be asked to do something the police can't?" VanSciver asked tavern owner John Miller during testimony at the hearing.
"Yes, I do," said Miller. "I can do my part . . . But I think the bar and the police department have to work together on the problem . . . together we can do a darn good job."
Miller said he has locked a backdoor to prevent drug dealers and users from doing business in a back alley. Warning signs were posted and one bartender said she has thrown out "hundreds" of suspected drug users.
Spendlove called such efforts "ludicrous" and said Knight Moves employees were only sending drug users elsewhere by ejecting them from the bar.