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State action targets bar's liquor license

A complaint says the Perry bar's owner routinely discriminates against black customers.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 20, 2001


TALLAHASSEE -- State officials are seeking to revoke the liquor license of a Perry bar owner accused of refusing to serve African-American customers in his front lounge.

David Holton routinely discriminates against black customers and instructs his employees to do the same, according to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages.

"(Holton's) long-standing policy of discrimination is immoral, unethical, unfair, oppressive and repugnant to the established public policy of the State of Florida," Division Director Richard E. Turner wrote in the Feb. 19 complaint.

Perry Package and Lounge has been at the center of controversy since Feb. 3, when a visiting Maryland lawmaker complained that he was not allowed to drink in the front lounge.

Turner said Holton's actions and those of his employees also violated the civil rights of the lawmaker, Talmadge Branch, who is considering filing a lawsuit against the bar.

Holton could not be reached for comment Monday evening, but he has said previously that the matter was a misunderstanding.

Holton, who faces a fine and possible revocation of his liquor license, now is entitled to a hearing before the alcohol and beverage commission. It was not clear late Monday whether a hearing had been scheduled.

The agency's findings mirror the comments of several other black Perry residents who told the St. Petersburg Times they have been told not to enter the bar through the lounge and to order their drinks in a back room.

Their accounts were published in a story in Saturday's Times.

Branch, head of Maryland's Legislative Black Caucus, stopped in at Perry Package on his way to a meeting in Tallahassee, 40 miles to the northwest.

Branch said he was told he could not drink in the lounge with the other customers, all of whom were white.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, ordered by Gov. Jeb Bush after Branch filed a police report, confirmed Branch's story. The FDLE report is in the hands of State Attorney Jerry Blair.

"I have received FDLE's investigative report," Blair said last week. "We are reviewing it. "There is some evidence of a possible violation of (the law), which is a second-degree misdemeanor," he added.

Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth and U.S. Attorney Mike Patterson have opened their own investigations.

Branch said last week he was pleased, but surprised, at the amount of attention the case has generated.

"I wasn't sure in fact that it could even be proven," he said.

- Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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