INDIANAPOLIS — Fights, shootings and assaults are an ongoing problem for several bars in Indianapolis, which continue operating despite a history of violent crime inside the establishment or on the property. Our reporting, alongside the IndyStar, found serious discrepancies between how the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC) claims it handles problems at bars and the way it actually enforces its own policies.
The FOX59/CBS4 cameras rolled as the state’s excise police, an arm of the ATC, and IMPD officers worked together to raid Icon Lounge on East Market Street, based on accusations of fraud and corrupt business practices. Three men were shot on the bar’s property in December 2021. Still, Icon Lounge continues operating.
“We need to try to interrupt that violence as soon as possible,” Captain Christopher Boomershine of IMPD’s Criminal Investigations Division-Commercial Crimes Branch said.
The attorney representing Icon Lounge said he had nothing to add publicly when we requested an interview.
Liquor Licenses in Marion County
According to the ATC, liquor licenses are renewed annually and only go before the local board every two years, unless the person who holds the permit received a violation since their last renewal or the ATC orders them to appear.
Our investigation found some bars in Indy hold onto their permits despite high volumes of police runs for violent crime. Our reporting partners at the IndyStar filed a records request and received emails between IMPD and the ATC, showing local police consistently share information with the state.
“Waiting two years after a murder has occurred at a bar may be too long,” Boomershine said. “That’s a long time when something is out of control and has chaos, disorder and violence.”
Connor’s Pub placed on PACE
FOX59/CBS4 examined records regarding Connor’s Pub located at 6331 Ferguson Street in Broad Ripple. On October 3, 2019, Curtis Baker killed Alfred Hayes Jr. inside the bar.
Al’s sister, Tinishelle Mills, still grieves her brother’s death.
“When they say you have the glue that keeps your family together, that was our glue,” Mills said.
When investigating police runs to the bar, we counted at least 70 runs since 2015 to the pub’s address detailing assaults, robberies and shootings.
Mills generally commented about concerning behavior at Indy bars.
“People go out to enjoy life, they don’t go out to lose their life,” Mills said.
The state placed Connor’s Pub on its PACE Program on January 29, 2020 through the end of September 2021. The ATC report showed IMPD responded 158 times in 2018 and 2019, including Hayes Jr.’s murder.
Under the Proactive Alcohol Compliance Enforcement program or PACE, establishments are subject to additional checks and oversight by excise officers.
“IMPD can only request that an establishment be put on the PACE program,” Boomershine explained.
The ATC denied numerous requests for interviews but provided us with records on the bars we examined. Those reports show, and we double-checked with the ATC, excise police visited Connor’s Pub once during the 20 months the bar was on PACE, despite its own policy saying, “problem bars” receive additional scrutiny.
The Notice of PACE Completion letter sent to Connor’s on September 21, 2021, stated “Since the date of your designation on the PACE program, officers with the Indiana State Excise Police have conducted increased permit visits as well as increased compliance checks for furnishing alcohol to minors. The results of those increased checks as well as a review of other state and local law enforcement reports relating to the permit location has been completed.”
But, records show they did one permit visit despite saying those would increase. IMPD’s database shows its officers were called to the location at least 10 times during that period.
“We would like to have a little bit more input at the local level on the violence at the bars, nightclubs and event halls,” Boomershine said.
Connor’s license was renewed for the standard two years until April 2023. We reached out to Connor’s Pub for a comment as well, but our calls were not returned.
Police response to Tiki Bob’s Cantina while on PACE
In the downtown district, the ATC placed Tiki Bob’s Cantina on the PACE Program on June 6, 2019, until September 23, 2021. During the time they were on PACE, police responded to the bar 104 times.
Yet, excise police visited seven times despite saying Tiki Bob’s would be under increased scrutiny during this period.
“I mean, if you have to get so many strikes against you and you haven’t learned, I mean that’s just like when you get your driver’s license, you get so many strikes they’re like no we’re never giving you a license again,” Mills said, again speaking generally about Indy bars.
Still, Tiki Bob’s is open and its license is valid through March 7, 2023. We reached out to the attorney representing this bar who said in a statement in part:
“We take our responsibility to the city, our neighbors and our patrons very seriously and will continue to invest significant resources in personnel, security and technology to reduce incidents inside and outside of our business. We are committed to partnering with Indiana State Excise Police and IMPD whenever we can to foster a better experience not only in our business but on South Meridian Street.”
Pollo Los Reyes license expires
Another bar on IMPD’s radar is Pollo Los Reyes located on Madison Avenue on the city’s near southside.
Laura Piercefield lives near the bar which was the scene of the first homicide on 2022 in Indianapolis and the killing of 19-year-old Jamear Owens on Easter Sunday.
“Those were very, very close to where I live,” Piercefield said. “It’s unfortunate that those two happened from the same business and it’s still currently operating.”
Piercefield, South Village Neighborhood Association Co-Chair, encourages neighbors in communities across the state to remain involved in what is happening in their neighborhoods.
“It’s almost like getting ahead of it and keeping someone from obtaining a liquor license through being aware when you see those signs up in a neighborhood,” Piercefield said. “Stop, get ahold of it, talk to the planner on call through the board. It really is almost about stopping it from ever occurring because once they have it, you have to have so much evidence. You have to have so much community outcry.”
The ATC confirmed Pollo Los Reyes’ license expired on August 28, 2022.
The commission said state law allows a permit holder six months after the date a permit expires to submit a renewal application, but operating on an expired permit without a valid permit extension is a violation.