Beer busts land several clerks in hot water

Too many stores are making it too easy for minors to get their hands on booze. That's what we found when we went undercover on a recent beer bust.

It's one of the most recognizable landmarks in Midtown Memphis: a sign outside Joe's Liquor store.

The folks at Joe's have been selling spirits since the late 50's. But a sale on this night could cost them big.

Cops busted clerks at Joe's for selling booze to an underaged customer. The same thing happened to 353 clerks in 2006 after more than 20 such raids.

Memphis Police joined Shelby County Sheriff's deputies to target 25 stores up and down Poplar Avenue.

We watched as an underaged police employee walked in wearing plain clothes.

Time after time, clerks failed to check his ID. Most of the clerks we confronted had the same story saying that it was the first time they had sold liquor to minors.

But, that was enough to land one clerk behind bars. Turns out, he also had a stolen handgun behind the counter.

"Well, the weapon could have been used in a homicide, traced back to gangs, several reasons," says Sgt. Michael Pope with Shelby County's Sheriff's Office.

A few blocks away, another clerk was going to juvenile lock-up. Police say he was about to sell beer to a minor while a minor himself.

"He's a juvenile, 17-year-old and selling beer. It is against the law, you've got to be 18 or older to sell beer," says Lt. R.G. Fittes with the Memphis Police Department.

Punishment is a misdemeanor citation for the clerk and fines that range from $500 to $1500 for the store.

"I'm thinking perhaps if the owner would pass along that fine to the employee, the message would be a lot louder that we're not going to tolerate that type of activity here in the city of Memphis," says Martavius Jones with the Alcohol Commission.

The Memphis Alcohol Commission currently decides whether to issue store owners a fine or pull their license. Pulling a store's license is rarely done.

The goal is not to put stores out of business. Usually, the owners simply pay the price for an irresponsible employee.

Investigators say until store clerks heed the warnings posted on their doors and windows, these busts will continue.

We spoke with Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and they agree, saying fines should be passed on to clerks by store owners.

However, they do not believe it should be up to the owners. They think that it should be the law.


to email Jason Miles.