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Home News-Telegram News 71 percent of local stores in undercover operation sold alcohol to minors

71 percent of local stores in undercover operation sold alcohol to minors

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An undercover operation conducted by Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office over the weekend showed 71 percent of the businesses tested sold alcohol to minors. Although no arrests were made Friday when the clerks sold alcohol to minors, deputies Monday had drawn up paperwork for each offense and turned the cases over to Hopkins County Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

“Our intent was not to fine any business or put anyone in jail. The intent was to stop the sale of alcohol to kids. We want to protect juveniles of this county and make store owners aware of this — and the public in general — to get this stopped,” said Hopkins County Sheriff’s Chief Investigator Lewis Tatum Monday. “We want to slow this down if not stop it. We want to do all we can do to protect our children.”

The operation to test local businesses was initiated after the sheriff’s office responded to several reports over the past few weeks of juveniles having large amounts of alcohol. Local officers on a few occasions had encountered juveniles with large amounts of alcohol and busted up gatherings in which large groups of people — many under the age of 21 — were in possession of or had consumed “an abundance of alcohol.” In some instances, deputies found “kids with multiple 30-packs” of beer. On at least one occasion, a minor was taken to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning, according to Tatum.

Further investigation and questioning by officers resulted in information indicating some of the alcoholic beverages were purchased by minors at local stores. Deputies consulted with the County Attorney’s Office about the issue, and initiated a plan to see if stores would sell illegally to minors.

Headed up by HCSO night shift officers, deputies launched the checks. Friday, they sent a minor along with a plain clothes officer into stores that sell alcohol — each selected at random. The minor’s job was to pick up a package of alcoholic beverages and try to purchase it.

“At five of seven stores, minors bought alcohol. At one store, they waited for the clerk to change. A minor again went in and bought from the new clerk. Only one chain of stores did not sell to us; the others did,” Tatum noted. “We’re not sure why at least five out of seven stores sold to minors, one store sold twice. They walked up to the counter and made the purchase. The clerks at those five stores never asked for ID.”

Once the minor made the purchase, the alcohol was handed off to a deputy. A uniformed deputy who was waiting outside the store then went in to talk to each clerk who sold to a minor about the illegal action.

“Selling alcohol to a minor is a Class A misdemeanor offense. The clerks are the ones who would be charged in these type of cases. If they’d asked for ID, if say someone under 21 came in and they asked for an ID and the minor acted 21 and gave a false ID, that’d be a defense. In these situations, they didn’t ask for ID. I think it would be a defense to prosecution if a minor tried to make the the clerk think they were over 21. That’s not what happened here,” said Hopkins County Attorney Dusty Rabe.

The potential range of punishment for a Class A misdemeanor conviction for selling alcohol to minor is up to one year in jail, two years on probation or a fine of up to $4,000. 

Rabe’s office received paperwork for seven cases against six different clerks at five different businesses — representing 71 percent of the attempts ending with alcohol sold to minors.

“A warrant would go out for any case that meets the level of the offense,” Rabe said. “A conviction could result in punishment from probation to jail time to a hefty fine. I think this is a good wake-up call for clerks, businesses and minors. I think now the clerks will really pay attention and look at IDs; they don’t want to look at criminal charges. The bottom line is simple. If a business sells alcohol, at the counter they usually have a calendar or clock or something with a date to be to purchase alcohol. They have to ask for ID.”

HCSO Sgt. Corley Weatherford, who headed up the business checks Friday, said deputies believed the offenses originated with the clerks selling the alcohol to minors, and that the store owners — in both Sulphur Springs and Hopkins County — were unaware the transactions were being made. The sheriff’s officials said, in some instances, the clerks even pocketed change from the illegal purchase.

Sheriff’s officers will continue to periodically send in minors to test whether local store clerks sell to minors. 

“We have contacted TABC — the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. They advised they would get involved if needed. We want to stop this before then. We don’t want to cause businesses to lose their license. We want the sell of alcohol to minors to stop,” Tatum said. “Our officers will be doing this — it could be tomorrow, this week, next week or next month. They will be checking at random.”

Should a clerk or business continue to sell to minors after being warned multiple times, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission would be contacted for further action; flagrant violation at a business could result in loss of liquor license.

Tatum also said that minors, too, will be held accountable if they choose to violate the alcohol laws. Anyone under the age of 21 officers catch with alcoholic beverages will be charged with the Class C misdemeanor offense of possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor. And, if minors try to circumvent the law by having an adult age 21 or older get alcohol for them — as some youth inevitably do and have done for decades — there are potential consequences for those individuals as well. Anyone who purchases alcohol for minors and is caught by officers will be charged with the misdemeanor offense of purchasing alcohol for a minor, deputies said.

 

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