Arundel liquor board hears discrimination complaint Incident labeled 'a misunderstanding'


The issue of separate public accommodations in the United States had already been settled. Or so thought Willie H. Parham, 51, until the night he and four friends went for drinks at Jack's Place, a restaurant and lounge in Severn.

The five black men, who said they had patronized the business for years, were greeted coldly the night of Sept. 20 by Joo Hae Lee and Joon Kim, workers at the lounge, and Ok Cha Murphy, the lounge's manager.

In Mr. Parham's words, the men were told, "The bar on the other side is for you people. It will be open in two weeks."

Last night, the men testified before the county liquor board, which also heard testimony from Ms. Murphy and others during an hourlong hearing. The board will issue its decision later, said chairman Thomas E. Riggin.

The board received word of the incident after the men complained of racial discrimination to Anne Arundel County police, who filed a report and sent a copy to the liquor board.

In the police report, Ms. Murphy, who has worked at the lounge for three years, denied the incident occurred, telling the investigating police officer that the bar was not open that night, only the restaurant.

But the officer looked inside, according to the report, and saw customers drinking at the bar -- all of them apparently Asian.

Ms. Murphy then said the lounge was open from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. The three men tried to enter the bar at 8:41 p.m., according to the report.

The men told the board they turned down Ms. Murphy's offer to sit in the lounge after the police officer advised her she had discriminated against them.

Ms. Murphy and her attorney last night blamed the incident on "a misunderstanding" because of Ms. Murphy's poor English.

During her testimony, Gary R. Maslan, her attorney, conceded that "her own counsel can't understand her a lot of times without an interpreter."

Mr. Maslan and John W. Steffey Jr., who is in the process of acquiring the lounge's liquor license by next month and will become one of the business' operating managers, promised the board that someone with a better command of English will be hired so that a similar incident does not occur again.

According to Mr. Parham, he and his friends, offended at the treatment they received, have been "spreading the word around" about what happened. They've been showing copies of the police report to people they know in hopes they will not patronize Jack's Place.

"I wouldn't want to go in there now behind what happened," said Mr. Parham, who lives a mile from the lounge and works at Fort Meade as a motor vehicle operator.

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