Chi Chiz drug case continues, but it may be moot in the end
BY DUNCAN OSBORNE
Testifying at a State Liquor Authority action against Chi Chiz — a Christopher St. bar popular among African-American gay and bisexual men — a Police Department detective said a drug dealer met an undercover officer at a Starbucks near Seventh Ave. and Grove St. to make a drug sale, but the dealer insisted they walk two-and-a-half blocks to finalize the sale in Chi Chiz.
“He kept on arguing with the undercover to go, and the undercover was adamant about not going there,” Detective Frederic Ortiz said at a Sept. 23 hearing at the authority’s New York City offices.
Citing four drug sales that police say took place in Chi Chiz between July 2009 and January 2010, the S.L.A. wants to revoke the bar’s license, a move that would effectively close the establishment.
Ortiz was the arresting officer on Jan. 12, 2010, and heard the conversation between the dealer and the undercover, who was identified by badge number 226, over a transmitter. Such devices, called Kel transmitters, can record, but the Police Department does not use that function. The undercover is expected to testify at a later hearing.
The undercover, who was on her second day of training on Jan. 12, agreed to go to Chi Chiz only after Ortiz had another undercover, called a “ghost,” signal Badge No. 226 to go to the bar.
“I told the ghost it’s O.K. to let 226 go to Chi Chiz,” said Ortiz, who testified that the dealer said of Chi Chiz, “That’s where the dealers are.”
Police arrested two men after the drug sale was completed, one outside Chi Chiz and a second inside the bar. Neither man was a bar employee or owner.
Christopher Lynn, an attorney who represented the bar with attorney Thomas D. Shanahan, cross-examined Ortiz, with their exchanges frequently combative, as Lynn asserted that police had orchestrated the sale at Chi Chiz. Nicholas DeCesare, the administrative law judge at the hearing, admonished both men to not be “argumentative.”
Joseph King, the detective on the three drug sales prior to Jan. 12, testified that police kept buying from one individual in an effort to “buy up,” or increase the amount purchased to increase the charges against the dealer. That dealer, who was a different person from the two arrested on Jan. 12, selected Chi Chiz for the transaction.
“The choice of that location was picked by the dealer,” King said. Though King has never been in the bar, he said the sales happened largely out of public view.
“I know on at least one or two dates, it was near the bathroom if not in the bathroom,” King said of the transaction. The bathroom is at the rear of Chi Chiz. Neither bar employees nor the owners were the subject of the investigation, King said.
Citing the same drug arrests, the city brought a nuisance abatement lawsuit against Chi Chiz in March that sought to close the bar. On Aug. 26, that case was postponed until November because Chi Chiz brought a counterclaim, charging the suit was motivated by racial and anti-gay animus.
Martin Schoenfeld, the judge hearing the nuisance abatement case, turned the bar’s counterclaim into a separate lawsuit and gave additional time for evidence discovery.
“I do think the defense here is offered in good faith,” Schoenfeld said on Aug. 26. “I can’t help but be concerned about the allegations of discrimination... . There is, at the very least, some basis for further investigation.”
Both actions may be moot. Lynn disclosed at the S.L.A. hearing that the Chi Chiz owners are trying to sell the business. A new owner might close the business and reopen under a new name with a different business model.