Council penalizes Walmart

Alcohol sale to minor leads to fine, license suspension

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — The City Council penalized the Walmart Supercenter Tuesday for its second violation of liquor sale laws in less than two years, but showed some mercy to the retail giant.

Walmart was fined $1,000 and had its liquor license suspended five days, but the suspension will not be five concurrent days. Instead, Police Chief Brian DeRosier was given the authority to negotiate the five days Walmart must close its liquor store with the store manager Amber Wright.

Tuesday’s council action comes slightly more than one month after DeRosier sought the penalties for an Nov. 23, 2012, incident. Oak Park Heights Police officers stopped an 18-year-old man in the Walmart parking lot and discovered alcoholic beverages in the man’s car.

A subsequent investigation revealed that the Walmart liquor store clerk admitted not checking the man’s identification before selling him the alcohol. The clerk has been charged with a gross misdemeanor for underage sale of alcohol.

At the Jan. 8 council meeting, DeRosier recommended the fine and five-day license suspension to run from a Monday-through-Friday period. But council action on the penalties was delayed until Tuesday to give Walmart officials a chance to appeal the action.

Wright attended Tuesday’s meeting and asked for a reduced license suspension.
“What I’m asking for is a lessening of the suspension,” she said, adding that any suspension would adversely impact Walmart’s liquor store sales.
“Definitely closing on a Saturday impacts me hugely,” she said.

However, Wright did not challenge the facts of the November incident. She said she reviewed surveillance video of the sale with the store’s asset protection manager.

“We did, in fact, sell alcohol to a minor,” she said, adding that she was called at home by store personnel that night about the incident.

Wright said the clerk involved in the incident lost her job under Walmart policy and all cashiers and store managers underwent company training on alcohol-sale procedures.

DeRosier praised Wright for her handling of the November incident, which came 23 months after a similar incident at the store in late 2010.

“Walmart has been very cooperative,” he said.

Despite a 23-month separation between incidents, several council members said they supported DeRosier’s recommendation.

“I can’t deviate from what our policy is,” said Councilman Mark Swenson.
Councilman Les Abrahamson agreed with Swenson, but asked if the license suspension must run five straight days.

“Does it necessarily have to be five concurrent days?” he asked.

City Attorney Mark Vierling said the council could give DeRosier permission to negotiate the five days when Walmart’s liquor store must close. The council then passed Abrahamson’s motion to fine Walmart and suspend the store’s liquor license five days worked out with DeRosier.