Council Denies Ox Bow License

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It was a barroom brawl of epic proportions.

Epic enough for the Payson Town Council to turn thumbs down on a liquor license for what may be the first time in its history leaving the fate of the newly reopened Ox Bow Saloon in serious question.

The denial request at Thursday's council meeting came from Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner, who presented the councilmembers with copies of reports from the Payson Police Department and the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control.

According to those documents, the brouhaha unfolded Saturday night, when Liquor Control just happened to have a pair of undercover agents in the Ox Bow Saloon.

Even before the fists of "10 to 15" patrons started flying, the agents observed "over-serving of alcohol and health violations" which mostly involved "a patron (who) urinated while standing at a table in the barroom area."

What followed, as described in the official reports, reads like a saloon brawl right out of a Western movie script, with bottles smashing over heads, teeth being knocked out, chairs and tables upended, and a trio of over-served patrons swinging at everyone in sight while the bartenders and Ox Bow owner Craig W. Norman watched, ignoring for at least five minutes one undercover agent's request that they call the police.

The instigators of the 11:30 p.m. fracas, the reports say, were two brothers and a cousin Joshua Croff, Timothy Croff and Richard Paradis.

Joshua Croff was first spotted striking an unidentified victim in the face with his closed fist. When other patrons tried to stop the fight, Timothy Croff rushed to the area and began striking people in the crowd of about 12 people, who by then were all "fighting and wrestling."

At some point during the free-for-all, Paradis apparently joined in, too, before all three relatives were restrained and escorted out the door.

As they attempted to regain entry, Timothy Croff punched bar patron Danny Struthers in the face, breaking two of his teeth. The trio then re-entered the bar, and another large fight erupted with "numerous patrons ... striking each other."

Upon the arrival of Payson Police officers, Paradis was "actively striking another subject," and ignored an order to stop. Paradis was then sprayed with pepper spray, subdued, and hauled to the police station along with his cousins, the Croff brothers.

Paradis was attended to by paramedics for his exposure to pepper spray, then transported to the Gila County jail and charged with two counts of assault and one count of disorderly conduct.

Timothy Croff was transported to Payson Regional Medical Center because of an eye injury, then taken to jail and charged with one count of assault and one count of disorderly conduct.

Josh Croff was taken to jail and charged with one count of disorderly conduct and one count of assault on patron Joe Perez, who was beaten and apparently hit over the head with a bottle.

Prior citations

According to Liquor Control records submitted by Gartner to the Council, the Ox Bow's new owner, Craig W. Norman who had been using an interim liquor license until final approval by the council and state has racked up a string of citations and violations at the Lost Alaskan and R-N-R Stix, two other bars he owns in Mesa.

At the Lost Alaskan Sept. 18, 1999, Norman was charged with one count of "selling liquor to an intoxicated or disorderly person" and fined $500; and charged with one count of "failure to request ID from underage buyer" and one count of furnishing "underage person with alcohol," for which he was fined an additional $625.

And Feb. 2, 1995, at R-N-R Stix, Norman was charged with three counts: Selling liquor to an intoxicated or disorderly person, furnishing an underage person with alcohol, and "employee consuming on duty." For those violations he was fined a total of $1,625.

In his recommendation for denial of Norman's application, Gartner told the council, "As you can tell by these reports, a licensed liquor establishment that is not managed appropriately can become a dangerous place for its patrons."

In agreeing with the police chief, Payson Town Attorney Sam Streichman said, "What the council did was make a recommendation to the Liquor Department, and it will be up to them to make a final decision" on whether or not Norman will be allowed to obtain a liquor license.

Norman's application will now go to the State Liquor Board, Streichman said, and "they (will) take into the hearing the reasons why the local agency the Town of Payson, in this case recommended denial. A summary of the testimony and whatever other evidence that was presented at the Town's public hearing will be presented.

"And then, the statute says, 'The Board shall consider the (recommendation) together with other facts and a report of the director relating to the qualifications of the applicant.'

"I suspect (the council's denial of the application) will have a great deal of weight with the State Liquor Board," Streichman said. "But we just don't know for sure, because we have no experience with anything like this."

Until the state's decision is reached, said Caroline Clay, a licensing manager for the Liquor Control, Norman will be allowed to use his interim permit to sell alcohol at the Ox Bow Saloon until it expires. That date is unknown.

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