State cites few bars, restaurants despite hundreds of complaints

Police receive 200+ complaints in two weeks
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Posted at 11:13 AM, Apr 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-06 11:15:39-04

INDIANAPOLIS— Despite receiving hundreds of complaints about nonessential businesses operating, like bars and restaurants, the state has cited very few thus far for violating the governor’s order to close.

On March 16, Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an order prohibiting restaurants, bars and nightclubs from providing in-dining services. On March 23, Holcomb directed the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC), Indiana State Department of Health and local boards of health to take all available administrative and enforcement actions against establishments who violate that order.

ATC’s enforcement arm, Indiana State Excise Police, has received “a large number of complaints” but all but one has been closed without citing the business, according to spokeswoman Lindsay Hyer.

“After an officer investigated, they deemed the complaint unfounded, meaning the bar/restaurant was not open for in-person dining,” said Hyer in an email to RTV6. “ISEP is working with bar and restaurant owners to educate them on Governor Holcomb’s executive order related to in-person dining through verbal warnings before issuing a citation.”

A vast majority of those bars and restaurants are now complying with Governor Holcomb’s order, said Hyer. Indiana State Excise Police have issued one notice of violation to a bar in Mishawaka in response to the stay at home order. 311 Inn on South Union Street was cited on March 23, records obtained by Call 6 Investigates show.

As of April 1, 2020, there were 18 open and active investigations into bars and restaurants, said Hyer. The Indiana State Excise Police has received a total of 216 complaints for bars and restaurants open to in-person dining between March 17, 2020, and March 31, 2020, according to the state’s Joint Information Center.

The Indiana State Excise Police is the law enforcement division of the Alcohol & Tobacco Commission, and complaints about restaurants and bars not adhering to the Executive Order should be submitted to the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.

If an employee feels their work conditions are unsafe, they may file a complaint with the Indiana Department of Labor.

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The Department of Labor does not have enforcement powers when it comes to the governor’s order regarding who is deemed essential and nonessential, however if they get a complaint, they are sending letters to companies reminding them who is essential and nonessential.

RTV6 also reached out to the Governor’s office for enforcement information on other types of businesses like gyms and salons.

We received a statement from the state’s Joint Information Center.

“The governor has said in recent weeks that, in regard to the executive orders he has issued, that he is asking the public to buy-into the goal to flatten the curve and slow the spread,” read the statement. “The purpose of the orders is for Hoosiers to adopt the mindset of complying with the executive orders to get through this together, and that we will review and consider the complaints that are received. We continue to work with local health departments, local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to make sure that businesses are following the governor’s directive for the health and well-being of all Hoosiers.”

RTV6 also reached out to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the Marion County Public Health Department, but neither agency has cited any businesses to date for violating the governor’s order for nonessential businesses to close.

“Following the restrictions implemented by Mayor Hogsett and the Marion County Public Health Department on March 16, suspected violations reported to the Marion County Emergency Operations Center were followed up by a visit from an IMPD officer or Marion County Public Health Department inspector,” said Aliya Wishner, IMPD’s chief communications officer in an email to RTV6. “Most reports were discovered to be unfounded as our community has cooperated to slow the spread of COVID-19. One fitness center was found to be operating in violation of these orders, but following education, this business complied with the restrictions and no citation or other enforcement action was necessary.”

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As of Friday, county prosecutors have filed 23 criminal charges against individuals for violating the state at home order—typically in conjunction with other crimes like OWI, public intoxication and drug possession.