Clayton Co. alcohol compliance check goes wrong - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Clayton Co. alcohol compliance check goes wrong


The Clayton County sheriff's office is examining its system that checks to see whether bars will sell alcohol to people under the age of 21.

A situation Friday left one bar manager with criminal charges, the 20-year-old decoy shaken and a community with questions.

At Fennellys' Irish Pub in Elkader Friday afternoon, the Clayton County Sheriff's Office conducted what it calls a routine alcohol compliance check.

"Every year we go to about every business in Clayton County and just send in an underage to try and buy alcohol and make sure people are compliant," sheriff Mike Tschirgi said.

They sent an underage 20-year-old woman into the bar to order a six-pack of beer.

"I guess all you gotta do is tell them 'No.' Say, 'No, you're not getting alcohol,'" Tschirgi said. "It would've been a done deal."

What happened next, Tschirgi said, was unprecedented in the county's six or seven years of conducting these compliance checks.

According to the sheriff's office, the manager of Fennellys' Irish Pub, 33-year-old Tim Finley, told the 20-year-old woman he thought this was a sting and threatened her with a pipe, telling her to go down into the basement and refusing to let her leave when she wouldn't.

Eventually she was able to go and reported what happened to the deputy outside, who was accompanying her on the checks.

"The youth is a very credible youth that we used for this alcohol compliance," chief sheriff's deputy Ryan Johnson said. "Her statement is in line with what Mr. Finley said after he was arrested."

KWWL went to Fennellys' Irish Pub and talked with Tim Finley to get his side of the story. He said his lawyer advised him to make no comment about the incident. Finley's wife, who was also working at the pub, reiterated that nobody was physically harmed.

The sheriff's office arrested Finley Friday for charges of second degree harassment, false imprisonment and third degree kidnapping. He is now out on bail and faces a court appearance sometime in the next two months, Clayton County prosecutor Alan Heavens said.

"This is a very unique incident that has happened," Johnson said. "We'll definitely look at our policies and procedures on how we conduct these tobacco and alcohol compliance checks and, hopefully, see if there's anything that needs to be changed and, if so, then we'll make those necessary changes."

"I think in the future we'll probably borrow the narcotics officers' body mic so we can monitor what's going on all the time," Tschirgi said of future alcohol and tobacco compliance checks involving the use of young people.

Johnson said the 20-year-old woman is okay but still a little shaken up. He said she went on to do several more compliance checks after the Friday afternoon incident.

"There's an officer when they do this. They don't go on their own," Tschirgi said, adding the officer is "in an unmarked vehicle parked a short distance away so they can be there for backup if it's needed."

He said the decoys are given specific instructions on what to do, say and wear when conducting these checks.

"I've heard of some bar owners getting a little excited or upset, but this one was probably a little unexpected," Tschirgi said.

Bartenders in other Elkader establishments Wednesday afternoon said they don't like the compliance checks and feel the Clayton County Sheriff's Office targets certain bars for extra enforcement.

Tschirgi said the county has approximately 100 establishments that sell alcohol and he has a grant to check each of them this fiscal year and the next.

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