Obstructing government operations seems like a serious offense, but it tends to be one of those catch-all charges used by law enforcement to generate arrests for non-criminal activities like showing less respect than officers feel they deserve or someone getting all constitutional in response to searches and/or seizures. In Nebraska, law enforcement uses it to handle “being made.”
Nebraska state police attempted to perform a compliance check at local restaurant Salt last August. In this case, “compliance check” is just a dressed-up word for “sting.” Cops sent in two teenagers to attempt to purchase alcohol. The sting failed.
Two troopers in plain clothes drove the teens in an unmarked vehicle to the businesses and stayed nearby in case things went awry, testified Christopher Kober, a State Patrol investigator.
The teens sat at Salt 88’s bar and ordered two Bud Lights, Alberico testified. The bartender asked for identification and the teens, trained on what to do, presented their real driver’s licenses. The bartender refused service and the teens left, Alberico testified.
John Horavatinovich, the owner of Salt, wasn’t too impressed by the failed sting. He tweeted out a photo of the teens, along with a warning to other restaurant/bar owners.
Assistant City Prosecutor Makayla Maclin said in her opening statement Monday that on Aug.13, Horvatinovich tweeted photos showing the faces of two teens with the comment: “Omaha restaurant peeps: These two are trying to ruin your night w/sting operations in town.”
The state police decided to shut down its sting operation since its two underage informants were no longer all that “confidential.” Instead of rounding up another set of compliant teens to perform compliance checks, the cops arrested Horavatinovich for obstruction of justice.
The arresting officer justified this with a mostly-nonsensical statement about safety — as though restaurant owners were every bit as vengeful and violent as mob bosses and drug cartel heads.
“I have never had my CIs’ identity compromised before,” Trooper Alberico testified. “I felt that it was a safety issue for them. I care about my CIs, and it’s my job to protect them.”
The police certainly seemed secure in the rightness of their actions, despite everything about the arrest looking like nothing more than petty revenge for having their operation blown. And the local prosecutors office was the most compliant entity in this failed compliance sting, as it followed through with a jury trial, rather than drop the ridiculous charge.
The jury found in favor of the restaurant owner, which means the next time an ID sting is uncovered, restaurant owners are more than welcome to let each other know which teens are acting as narc-of-the-day for the local PD.
Honestly, the problem here lies entirely with state law enforcement and its response to Horavatinovich’s actions. As Fault Lines’ Josh Kendrick points out, the public shouldn’t be forced to stay silent when law enforcement screws up.
While police are welcome to investigate crime, that doesn’t mean we now live in a police state. If your amateur hour undercover investigation targeting law-abiding business owners gets discovered, why does the public have to cover for your ineptitude? Why can’t those business owners get together and help each other? Maybe remind each other to double-check identification and watch out for teens drinking at the bar?
Just like warning drivers about speed traps, warning other business owners about law enforcement stings raises awareness and actually results in more compliance, rather than less. Those warned about speed traps slow down. Those warned about law enforcement sting operations pay more attention to those they’re serving alcohol to. The only party that “loses” is the one that thinks the general public is nothing more than a revenue stream that can be tapped into at its convenience — where arrests and fines are preferred to actual lawful behavior.