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El Caracol loses liquor license for being called police activity ‘focal point’

The State Liquor Authority has revoked the liquor license of El Caracol Deli on Griffing Avenue as of May 18, saying the business has violated the terms of that license by exceeding permitted hours of operation, operating as a night club, having a disc jockey on the premises, allowing dancing and employing security guards.

The SLA also said the occurrence of “noise, disturbance, misconduct or disorder” both inside the bar and in the parking lot out front caused the business to become “a focal point of police activity.”

The revocation was based on investigations by both the SLA and the Riverhead Town Police Department relating to a fight in the parking lot on Oct. 8, 2016, and an investigation by town police on Jan. 20, 2017.

The business is still open, although it is not permitted to sell alcohol.

“So long as they don’t serve alcohol, they are allowed to stay open,” said Bill Crowley, an SLA spokesman. He said they are not allowed to have alcohol on the premises without a liquor license.

In February, an administrative law judge, who makes recommendations to the SLA board, sustained all of the charges against El Caracol except for the claim that the premises were allowed to become disorderly in violation of the Alcohol Beverage Control law.

In that instance, Riverhead Sgt. Jill Kubetz testified to having been called to the parking lot of El Caracol by a 911 dispatcher at 9:30 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016, in response to a fight involving about 10 people. She said she was told by witnesses that the fight began inside El Caracol and that the security guard pushed the combatants outside.

Administrative Law Judge Nicholas DeCesare did not sustain this charge, writing in his decision: “To establish a charge of suffering or permitting, there must be substantial evidence that the licensee knew or had the reasonable opportunity to acquire the knowledge that the alleged disorderly conduct occurred.”

El Caracol owner Alcides Arias denied that the fight started inside the restaurant and claimed the people involved in the fight came from other places and tried to get in because so many other Latino places have been shut down. He said that when the security guard turned them away, they began fighting in the parking lot, which is shared by several other restaurants and businesses.

However, the SLA board overruled the judge’s recommendation and did include that charge among its reasons for canceling the liquor license.

Mr. Arias did admit that five years ago, he changed the method of operation to extend the hours, permit dancing with a disc jockey and to employ a security guard, all without filing any amendment to his license with the SLA, according to the administrative law judge’s ruling.

Mr. Arias did not respond to a message left at the restaurant seeking comment.

“We have gotten a lot of complaints about them over the years,” Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said. “Now, they’ve lost their liquor license and our COPE unit was instrumental in getting that to happen,” he said, referring to the Community Oriented Police Enforcement unit.

El Caracol was fined $3,500 by the SLA in 2014 for allowing the premises to become disorderly and for operating beyond its allowed hours of operation, according to Mr. Crowley.

El Caracol still faces an additional SLA charge for allowing the premises to become disorderly on Dec. 17, 2016. That case is still pending, according to Mr. Crowley.

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Photo: El Caracol Deli on Griffing Avenue in Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)