Police concede failures in curtailing Canton drinking

Baltimore police conceded on Tuesday that officers inappropriately allowed hundreds of St. Patrick's Dayrevelers to turn Canton's public square into an unsanctioned outdoor beer garden, but authorities also pleaded for people to party responsibly.

The recriminations came after residents of the Southeast Baltimore community and bar district endured a day and night of nonstop partying at O'Donnell Square that led to vandalism, public urination and rowdy behavior likened to a frat house.

In the messy aftermath, city officials promised to work with residents and business owners to come up with a new enforcement plan.

This debate happens often in city neighborhoods where residents and drinking establishments mix, such as Federal Hill and Fells Point, where people have grown accustomed to bar crawls and a mass exodus of inebriated patrons from taverns as the bell rings for last call.

City police admit to a breakdown in Canton, but the department's chief spokesman said he also is frustrated that a drunken crowd thought it acceptable to trash a neighborhood and turn its central square into what he called "a garbage dump."

"We don't live in a society where every time you leave your house, police have to monitor what you do," said the spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi. "Everybody drinks on St. Patrick's Day. But what they did to the square was reprehensible."

The police official said that "collectively, the ball was dropped between the people partaking in the festival and the police officers who were on the scene. Things got out of control. … There is no question that the officers assigned to the event did not enforce the laws properly."

On Saturday, with people drinking early and some bars opening before dawn, police throughout Baltimore's entertainment zones were taxed. Fist-fights were reported throughout Federal Hill, and police arrested 10 youths near the Inner Harbor when mobs of juveniles unexpectedly descended on downtown, leading to a stabbing and at least one brawl.

But in Canton, residents were prepared — or at least thought they were.

For the past six years, community leaders representing bars and residents have worked under a memorandum of understanding that allows taverns to expand their space on St. Patrick's Day by putting up tents and roping off some property. In exchange, they pay for cleaning up and to hire up to five police officers on overtime to handle the crowds.

But those rules do not include allowing drinking in public. Why that message did not reach the officers sent to Canton on overtime remains under review by city police.

Authorities said much of the beer was purchased in 12-packs from M&L Canton Discount Liquors, on the square, where video showed lines up to 40 people long. The owner's son, working behind the counter on Tuesday, declined to give his name, but said he had a sign warning patrons that drinking in public was illegal.

Stephan Fogleman, the city's liquor board chairman, who lives in Canton, said the store does not have any outstanding compliance issues. "The owner has no legal obligation to police where his product will ultimately be consumed," Fogleman said.

CityCouncilman James B. Kraft, who represents Canton and brokered the memorandum of understanding for the holiday, said he was in the square and watched officers assigned to the district walk through and force people to pour out their beers. But he said several of the overtime officers were telling people drinking in the square was allowed.

By 9 p.m., Kraft said, officers were telling him they were overwhelmed. "Two of my staffers told me, 'We can't get anybody to do anything,'" Kraft said.

The councilman put full blame on the overtime contingent. "They just screwed up royally," he said. "I told people at the liquor store that if they walk out and open this stuff in the square, police are going to start citing them. Most people proceeded to walk into the square and open their beer anyway."

Police said that about 9:30 p.m., the deputy major of the Southeast District, Melissa Hyatt, "saw things were unacceptable and shut it down," according to Guglielmi, the department spokesman. Kraft credited Hyatt with organizing officers to go through the crowd, calmly urge people to dump their cups and leave.

No arrests were made and police said two citations were issued — at 7:10 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., for urinating in public.

Dustin Ritter, a Canton resident who photographed and videotaped the St. Patrick's Day scene at the square, criticized police for ignoring not only the open drinking but vandalism and public urinating that he said went on all day.

"It's a lack of leadership," Ritter said. "You can have fun and you can drink. We love that. It's why we moved to Canton. But you have to act responsibly and show some respect."

"By and large, these people do not live in our neighborhoods," said Kraft, who was confronted by angry residents at Sunday Mass at St. Casimir Parish, two blocks from the liquor store.

"We live on the tourist business," he said. "But we're also a residential neighborhood. Come here, have a good time, spend your money but leave the neighborhood like you found it. That's all we ask."