Ohio Bar Owner Sues 21 Police Officers For Excessive Force and Defamation

Bar owner Joe Salem stands for a portrait at Hibachi Express on Friday, March 17, 2017, in Akron, Ohio.

Ohio – A bar owner is suing the city of Akron and 21 police officers, alleging they harassed his customers, defamed his business and used excessive force in a “warrantless” raid that ended in his “false arrest.”

Joe Salem was behind the bar June 26, 2016, at his Hibachi Express on Brown Street when a team of Akron police officers made a surprise liquor-license inspection led by Capt. Terry Pasko, who worked the vice unit before becoming a night shift commander.

Pasko knew Salem before the raid. His unit reportedly had documented years of liquor violations, brawls and more serious crimes — including homicides — at bars and nightclubs either recently sold by Salem or operating with a liquor license in his or a relative’s name.

The most recent example was fresh. Pasko had sent officers to a report of a fight at Game 7 Bar and Grille on South Arlington Street less than 24 hours earlier. Two of his patrol officers came under attack. One escaped with a head bloodied by a beer bottle.

Salem wasn’t running the now-defunct Game 7 Bar and Grille. He said the liquor license was in the process of being transferred. But the injured officers, he said, are why police retaliated against him with the after-midnight raid on his Hibachi Express at 935 Brown St.

A security camera recorded most of the incident. The officers fanned out and questioned patrons. Pasko moved toward Salem’s private office, and Salem objected.

An unidentified officer can be seen grabbing Salem’s arm from behind as the two went to the ground. Salem is then lifted off the floor in handcuffs and led out the front door to the back of a cruiser.

Salem had a firearm on his person, which he said is licensed and legal. Still, he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, obstructing official business and failing to display a liquor permit or age limit to drink at the bar.

All of the charges were later dismissed, court records show. The city and police department didn’t respond when asked why.

Salem’s attorney, Paul J. Cristallo, wrote in the lawsuit filed last week against the city that his client’s rights were violated in this “willful, wanton, intentional and reckless … retaliatory raid and prosecution.” In his lawsuit, Salem calls for a city apology and better training for police, as well as an unspecified dollar amount to cover alleged injuries to his right wrist and knees, and to make up for business income he said he lost when police disparaged his business or pestered customers.

Reached by phone, Salem politely declined to comment. “I tried talking to you before and it really didn’t work out,” he said, not happy with previous coverage that detailed the many legal issues at his bar operations in Akron.

Akron Police Lt. Rick Edwards declined to comment on the lawsuit. He did dispute Salem’s claim that the raid was a “warrantless” and “unlawful entry.”

“The law does not require a search warrant for inspections of a liquor establishment,” Edwards said in an email.

The Akron City Council has fought Salem’s requests to transfer or receive liquor licenses. They denied another earlier this year.

Last year in separate incidents just weeks apart, a patron and a security guard were shot and killed at Game 7 Bar and Grille. City prosecutors filed under Ohio’s public nuisance law to successfully shutter the bar.

The nightclub, like the Hibachi Express, is in the South Akron neighborhood represented by Councilwoman Tara Samples. Samples said that when the city went after the nightclub’s operators, its tax-delinquent landlord and Salem, she heard the bar operator complain that the city and its police were out to him. But she’s still not buying that argument.

“Well, look at the history here,” Samples said.

Court records show that Salem has been sued more than 60 times. The Ohio Department of Taxation has come after him 38 times. He’s been fined at least three times and bounced three checks to the state on the liquor permit for 627 S. Arlington St.

On the criminal side, there are numerous reports of fights, liquor license violations, shootings and more at his many businesses in Akron over the past three decades.

“The fact is he opens establishments almost always in black neighborhoods and there’s always violence and there’s always death,” Samples said. “Where he opens an establishment, a body usually follows. That’s the bottom line.”

Source: https://www.ohio.com/akron/news/local/akron-bar-owner-sues-police-alleging-excessive-force-and-defamation