- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009


Authorities in a small North Dakota coal mining town want bar owners to install surveillance systems after a rash of brawls that some people liken to those seen in John Wayne’s Western movies.

Bar owners say the cameras would infringe on their patrons’ rights.

Oliver County State’s Attorney Mike Liffrig said he made the request to officials in the town of Center after one man suffered severe facial injuries in an early January assault in the community of fewer than 700, about 40 miles northwest of Bismarck.

“I’ll bet there have been a half-dozen similar cases in the past two years,” Mr. Liffrig said.

City Attorney John Mahoney and Mr. Liffrig said the bar fights make Center seem like the Old West, and are tough to prosecute.

“One of the problems is that fights don’t get reported, or they don’t get reported until several days later, and by then the evidence is stale and the trail is cool,” said Mr. Mahoney.

Mr. Liffrig’s proposal includes requiring owners to report fights immediately.

Having fights recorded as evidence would help prove cases, Mr. Liffrig said. Mr. Mahoney said no charges have been filed in the January brawl and no one has been arrested.

The town has broad discretion over the enforcement of liquor licenses, Mr. Mahoney said, and the fights are making some people question the need for the town to have three bars. Licenses can be suspended or revoked for failing to report a fight or if already intoxicated patrons are served alcohol.

Some bar owners oppose the surveillance, saying it would violate their patrons’ rights to speak freely.

“There are a lot of people who come to bars to talk about other people,” said Perry Wolf, owner of the Lonewolf Saloon, who said he’s seen fights similar to ones in John Wayne’s movies. “I like to drink my beer, too, and my mouth might get a little loose.”

Mr. Mahoney said many of the fights have been between union and nonunion workers from power plant and wind farm projects in the county.

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