Jimmy Cirrito, owner of Jimmy's Old Town Tavern in the Town of Herndon, appeared before the Herndon Town Council Tuesday night and apologized for whatever negative publicity the recent disclosure of a police alcohol-enforcement operation may have caused.
"On behalf of the staff and patrons, I want to apologize. ... We never called the media. We did not want to bring attention to Herndon, certainly not anything negative," Cirrito said. "I have simply answered my phone."
However, citizens and business owners feel it is the commander of the Fairfax County police's Reston District station who needs to apologize to Cirrito and the Town of Herndon.
The "open mic" portion of the meeting drew five speakers, in addition to two councilmen and the mayor, who expressed their support of the restaurant and bar situated in the center of town.
"I don't know why he is apologizing. I don't think he did anything wrong," said David Kirby, a Herndon resident.
According to the Fairfax County police, between Dec. 8 and Jan. 3, they sent plain-clothes officers into Herndon- and Reston-area bars and restaurants, in response to "a series of escalating violent incidents" to enforce the state's Alcohol Beverages Control (ABC) laws. In a couple of cases, uniformed police entered the establishments, and reportedly based on information provided by the undercover officers, asked patrons to undergo sobriety tests. A total of 12 arrests were made in or near three establishments: Jimmy's, Champps Americana in Reston and Ned Devine's, located in the unincorporated portion of Herndon. Nine of the arrests where for drunk in public. Under state law, any establishment open to the public is deemed a public place, in effect, making being intoxicated at a bar illegal. The law also specifies a blood-alcohol level of .08 as drunk in the case of driving, however, there is no such provision for drunk in public. Instead, it is a judgment call made by the officer based on behavior.
The actions of the police have raised questions about civil rights and, in the case of Jimmy's, professional courtesy. Jimmy's Tavern is located within Herndon town limits and therefore the jurisdiction of the town's police force. The operation has also drawn national attention with Cirrito making an appearance on "Good Morning, America."
Officials for the county police did not return the Connection's telephone calls, and instead issued a press release, dated Jan. 9. The general manager at Champps, Kevin O'Hare, declined to comment, and the owner of Ned Devine's, Graham Davies, was unable to be reached before deadline.
"I'M DISTURBED as to what happened," said Joe Wzykoski, owner of Hands Inc., located on Center Street in town. "Jimmy has been more involved with the community and in making things happen for this town. Why was such a small business singled out?"
Wzykoski went on and called for the Reston District commander to apologize "to Herndon and certainly to Jimmy."
Councilman Dennis Husch went further, saying the county police's actions violated the town's policy of education before enforcement, it's charter, which establishes Herndon as its own jurisdiction, the patrons of the restaurants rights and the public's trust.
"The police in the Reston District have done a disservice to themselves ... and destroyed their credibility among the citizens," Husch said.
Sgt. Don Amos, public information officer with the Herndon Police, said they were notified of the operation and were actually on-site outside of Jimmy's as support for the county police. However, he said the police were not a partner in the operation.
According to the county police press release, the operation was launched because "police were repeatedly being called to the same few establishments as many as three times each night for alcohol-related problems such as large brawls (one involving over 60 people,) assaults, disorderly persons and destruction of property."
It went on to state the locations the officers frequently responded to had also received safety violations from the ABC department and the county Fire Marshal's Office. The release failed to provide the names of the establishments or the dates and times of the alcohol-related problems.
ABC records, said Becky Gettings, director of public affairs, show that Jimmy's, which has been open for six years, has been convicted of three violations overall, with two of those coming since 2001. Champps has a total of two violations, with one since 2001 and Ned Devine's has two violations, both since 2001.
"Jimmy's is not an establishment we're at all the time," said Amos. "I don't know how the places were targeted. I don't know what the criteria was."
CIRRITO DOES NOT deny the violations and says they are something he is not proud of. He said one of the recent violations occurred when a bartender served a minor, sent in by the police, during a lunch rush and the other when ABC agents arrested a patron that the bar staff had stopped serving because she was intoxicated. He also said the bar's first violation was for serving a minor six months after the place opened.
"There have been plenty of times we've ID'd a minor; and they don't give us credit for the cabs we've called or the people we've drove home," Cirrito said. "A perfect night at Jimmy's for me, would be a night where we don't have to cut anyone off, don't have to call any cabs, don't have to drive anyone home. ... I don't think that just because you're not driving doesn't mean you can get drunk. I don't care ... sober up. I would love it if everybody stayed sober.
"Just like you would be upset if you had a party and someone leaving your house got into an alcohol-related accident and got hurt or hurt someone else. Jimmy's is my house."
One speaker, Matt Tracy, at the Herndon meeting called for the council to ask for an investigation, and identify the person responsible for the action. "Let us handle it either at the polls or by lobbying if it's an ABC matter," he said.
A meeting between the establishments owners, county police, Herndon police, the fire marshal and ABC officials was scheduled to take place Wednesday morning.