The state Liquor Control Board will investigate conduct at a Belltown bar that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes says should have its liquor license suspended. Holmes points to a series of violent incidents that took place there, including one in early October that ended with the shooting death of a man in a parking lot outside the bar.
In a letter sent to the Washington State Liquor Control Board last Friday, Holmes said that Cellars Restaurant and Lounge has become a public safety hazard and requested that the board suspend the bar's liquor license immediately. In addition to the fatal October shooting, the letter describes a series of other criminal events that have taken place there since last year, including a fight involving 20-30 people and a man firing a gun at the ceiling. A patron also hit an owner of the bar with a bottle last July.
"Cellars openly allowed minors and weapons on the premises, cannot manage their customers, and demonstrated through their actions a failure to cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation of the most serious crimes," Holmes' letter said.
The bar is located on First Avenue near Blanchard Street. Multiple attempts to contact the owner in person and by phone on Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful.
A man working at Cellars on Monday night told a reporter to stop by on Tuesday morning to speak with someone named Hussain. State business records list Hussain Alshafei as the vice president of Jenna, Inc., the legal name for the company that operates the bar. On Tuesday morning, Alshafei was not there and a different employee said that he was not expected in anytime soon.
The move by the City Attorney's Office comes as Mayor Ed Murray continues to emphasize that combatting downtown crime is one of his top public safety priorities. Downtown residents and business owners have pressured Murray's administration to address the issue since the early days of his term.
Before the liquor control board makes a decision on Holmes' request, it will conduct its own investigation.
"We have to draw a nexus between the licensee's action and the events that happened," said Brian E. Smith, the board's communications director. He added that the type of emergency license suspension that the city attorney has asked for is an "extraordinary use of the board's power" and is carried out infrequently.
While the emergency suspensions only apply for up to six months, the board typically works to revoke a business's license permanently during that time period, effectively shutting them down.
There is currently no timeframe for how long the investigation might take, Smith said.
In June, the Liquor Control Board issued an emergency suspension for Pauly's Nightclub in Stevenson along the Columbia Gorge. Prompting the suspension was a bartender at Pauly's who allegedly sold marijuana to a Skamania County Sheriff's Office informant, while at the bar, on three occasions.
The last emergency suspension in Seattle was handed down in 2010 against V-Bar Noodle Bar and Lounge, which was also located in Belltown. Situations involving violence and employees obstructing the police took place at V-Bar, according to a liquor control board press release announcing the suspension. In one incident, the owner fired a gun outside the bar.
The homicide that centered around Cellars occurred at approximately 1:45 a.m. on Oct. 11 and is detailed in sections of a police report attached to Holmes' request.
A 21-year-old man, referred to as JM in the report, went to dance at Cellars with a woman he knew. Before entering the bar, he hid a 9mm handgun he was carrying near the dumpsters out back. Once inside, a man tried to cut in and dance with his date. A confrontation unfolded.
JM and his date left the bar. But the man who tried to cut in on the dance floor and three of his acquaintances went outside as well. One of them, later identified as 20-year-old DeAndre Eaton, pulled a .40-caliber handgun out of his pants and fired two shots at JM. Police say that Eaton had the gun while inside Cellars. JM fired nine rounds in return, shooting Eaton in the head and killing him. Eaton's half-brother, 19, who was among the group, was also wounded, along with a 32-year-old bystander who was across the street.
According to police, Cellars was "closed up tight," by the time their detectives arrived on the homicide scene, about 30 to 40 minutes after the shooting. By the following evening, surveillance footage at the bar had been recorded over.
In his letter to the Liquor Control Board, Holmes said that even though weapons were a frequent problem at the club, Cellars performed only light pat-downs of patrons as they entered. "The on-going violence paired with the establishment's demonstrated lack of cooperation with law enforcement creates an environment of extreme danger to the public," he wrote.
Holmes won support among bar and nightclub owners during his election campaign in 2009. His predecessor as City Attorney, Tom Carr, worked to crack down on establishments that were violating liquor laws.