A Mexican restaurant near the I-95 and Route 24 interchange in Edgewood was fined $6,000 by Harford County's liquor control board Wednesday after a string of alcohol-related incidents, including fights, a stabbing and employees drinking on the job.
The owner of El Rodeo Mexican Bar & Grill, in the 1700 block of Edgewood Road, failed to operate the business responsibly, which "resulted in the death of one patron and the stabbing of two others," liquor inspector Charles Robbins wrote in a violation report.
During a show cause hearing at the liquor board offices in Bel Air, El Rodeo owner Neel Kamal and his lawyer said the business attracted a rowdier clientele, including gang members, after he started playing rap music Saturday nights over the summer.
He has since changed the music format and enforced a dress code, they said.
The disorder came to a head in an Aug. 25 incident when, at 1:34 a.m., a large crowd gathered in the parking lots around El Rodeo and a single gunshot was heard, according to the Harford County Sheriff's Office.
No one was shot but deputies found two patrons who had been stabbed by an unknown man. Both were taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air for treatment, according to the violation report.
Before that, the Sheriff's Office investigated an accidental death at the nearby La Quinta Inn on April 18, in which the victim had allegedly been "drinking heavily" the night before at El Rodeo. While leaving the bar with his friends, he fell, hit his head, lost consciousness and was ultimately found dead at the hotel, according to the violation report.
Other incidents included a large fight and assault on Aug. 18, in which one person was knocked unconscious and several people involved were known gang members, according to the Sheriff's Office and Maryland State Police.
On Aug. 10, State Police were called to investigate a disorderly subject with a gun in a vehicle at El Rodeo, although no such person was found.
Two El Rodeo employees were also arrested for drunk driving earlier this year. Both were subsequently fired, Kamal said.
Kamal and his lawyer, Andrew Alperstein, admitted to the charges but told the liquor board that the restaurant has since made changes and has not had any more issues since the end of August.
The trouble began when Kamal started hosting DJs who took requests on Saturday nights, Alperstein said.
"The rap music request led to a crowd that… led to problems," Alperstein said. "There were known gang members that showed up."
After the stabbing, "this was just very, very unacceptable to the business," he said.
He said part of the problem was Kamal was staying busy with running a second El Rodeo in Towson, which he ended up selling in the spring.
Kamal has also since changed the music format to "Mexican and Top 40," and changed the dress code - "no big, gaudy gold chains, no baggy pants, shirts that are not appropriate," Alperstein said.
Any employee who drinks at all will also be immediately terminated, he said.
Alperstein called Kamal "a good guy" who is "spread very thin." Robbins confirmed that Kamal has been cooperative with police and the liquor board.
"He would like not to have his business devalued to nothing," Alperstein said, adding Kamal took steps on his own to remedy the problems.
"I think, truly, fixing the music is the biggest factor," Alperstein said.
Kamal said the restaurant is generally "very family-friendly" and he hopes to keep it that way.
"Since these couple of incidents happened, I learned by the mistakes," he said. "I am always very serious in business."
He explained that he has been a business owner for 17 years, that he owns three restaurants in the county and that 60 percent of his sales are from food.
Kamal also said the previous security guard who was working the night of the stabbing has been fired and introduced a new security guard to the liquor board.
Robbins, the inspector, confirmed that "up until 9 [p.m.] or 9:30, it's a family establishment."
"At 9:30 or so is when everything starts to change," he said, but noted: "It is a lot of travelers and people from the various hotels… It is the only restaurant right in the area."
Liquor board members said the biggest problem was that Kamal was not spending nearly the amount of time he was expected to at the restaurant.
Kamal was fined $2,000 for failing to have the licensee be physically present on the premises a substantial amount of time, $1,000 for disturbing the peace, $1,000 for selling alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person and $2,000 for having employees consume alcohol or be intoxicated while on duty.