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Tuscaloosa City Council at odds with ABC board

TUSCALOOSA (AP) — The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board plans to continue jailing every minor found in possession of alcohol in Tuscaloosa despite requests from City Hall to curb the arrests, including at the Strip near The University of Alabama campus.

City officials said the jailings on misdemeanor charges create bad publicity and have a short-term, negative affect on businesses.

City Attorney Bob Ennis said the board had agreed to relax its arrest policy and issue citations to minors found with alcohol, rather than arrest them, but a subsequent lawsuit filed against the city prompted the ABC agency to revert to incarcerating offenders.

Whose responsibility?

The lawsuit, filed recently by a UA student, is challenging the legitimacy of the minor-in-possession charge.

State ABC board administrator Emory Folmar was adamant that the only responsible option for dealing with those under 21 caught with alcohol is taking them to jail, regardless of their state of intoxication.

Folmar also accused the city and the police department of shirking their responsibility to enforce the state's liquor laws.

"They want the ABC officers to be the heavy so they don't get blamed for something that happens to Junior out on the Strip," Folmar said Wednesday.

He said ABC officers will continue to arrest and jail any minor found to be in possession of alcohol, citing concerns of minors later becoming involved in an accident as justification for incarceration, despite the offense's misdemeanor status.

If a Tuscaloosa police officer finds a minor in possession of alcohol, they are issued a citation and ordered to appear in municipal court.

But if the suspect is intoxicated, the officer also charges him with public intoxication and takes him to the Tuscaloosa County Jail.

"We'd rather arrest them and face those issues than turning them loose and letting them go on down the road and get killed," Swindle said.

The City Council has appointed an ad hoc committee to recommend improvements for the Strip. Members of the panel include University of Alabama representatives, community leaders and city officials. It has met once with decision-makers for the ABC Board.

Several committee members questioned why the ABC board intended to go on arresting non-intoxicated minors who are found in possession of alcohol.

"It's bad PR for the University (of Alabama) and it's bad PR for the city," Councilman Lee Garrison, who chairs the committee, said.

Phil Weaver, the only committee member with a businesses on the Strip, said the ABC's sweeping enforcement run off customers of all businesses in the area.

"When they go out and do that, it kills all the business down there," Weaver said. "It's completely a police state and people don't feel comfortable there."

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Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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