- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

A Virginia state senator has inserted language into the budget that would withhold funds from law enforcement agencies that engage in stings of bar patrons, like the ones Fairfax County police conducted in several restaurants over the holidays.
Sen. Janet D. Howell, Reston Democrat, said she was "outraged" last week about news of police raids on local bars and used her position on the Finance Committee to add the language to the budget.
"It was too late to have a bill written for me, so I took another approach to have the funds cut off for them," Mrs. Howell said.
The language calls for withholding funds from any agency employing a "law-enforcement program involving the harassment or unlawful seizure of the commonwealth's citizens while they are lawfully engaging in the consumption of alcoholic beverages."
Mrs. Howell said the provision would likely have little effect on the Fairfax County Police Department, but could affect the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, which participated in the sting.
Meanwhile, Delegate Thomas Davis Rust said he has drafted a letter to Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore seeking clarification of laws on public drunkenness because of concerns police abused the statute that defines intoxication in conducting their raids.
"It seemed to me to be going beyond what I thought were prudent actions by the police department," said the Republican who represents parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
Mr. Rust said his request was prompted by complaints from the Town Council of Herndon after Fairfax County police arrested nine persons for public drunkenness in three restaurants.
Mr. Rust said the standard for drunkenness while driving is well-defined, but the definition for public intoxication in the Virginia code is "not clear."
The Virginia code defines public intoxication as a condition in which a person has "drunk enough alcoholic beverages to observably affect his manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior."
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Mr. Kilgore, said the attorney general would not comment on a request for clarification on a point of law until it has been processed, which could take 30 to 60 days from the time the request is received.
Mr. Rust said the deadline for introducing legislation that could clarify the definition has passed for this session of the General Assembly, but if Mr. Kilgore finds the law to be overbroad, the legislature could address it next session.
"The General Assembly could do something if it was warranted and necessary," he said.
"It has to be pursued," said Herndon Town Council member John M. De Noyer. "I think there should be an apology. The [police] tactics were heavy-handed and intrusive."
During the operation, undercover officers observed bar patrons, while uniformed officers waited outside to remove "obviously drunk" customers and administer field-sobriety tests, police said.
Police said they only removed patrons who were so drunk they were "falling off barstools or stumbling down stairs."
But restaurant managers and owners complained that police were unfairly testing patrons who had no plans to drive or who exhibited no signs of drunkenness.
The Washington Times reported the incident Jan. 7. The Reston Times first reported the story.
Herndon Town Council member Dennis Husch said the council is not trying to be lenient on drunken drivers, but he said police "twisted the law" by raiding bars.
"When there's no vehicle involved, you can't apply the same rules," Mr. Husch said.
Mr. De Noyer said he has received complaints from restaurant operators that business is suffering in response to news of the raids. Police began the program Dec. 8 after what they said were a growing number of alcohol-related crimes, including vandalism and assaults, near several establishments in the Herndon area. The program ran through Jan. 3.
Police said the tactic has been used for more than 20 years, though not always as aggressively as the monthlong program in Herndon. They have given no indication they plan to abandon the tactic.


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