Three store clerks in Woodward received criminal charges after failing alcohol compliance checks conducted earlier this week.
Staff from the Northwest Center for Behavioral Health's Area Prevention Resource Center (APRC) teamed up with a youth volunteer and a deputy from the Woodward County Sheriff's Department to see how well local clerks were following the laws about checking identification and refusing to sell alcohol to minors.
After visiting 8 alcohol retailers in Woodward County on Monday (7 were located in Woodward and the 8th in Fort Supply), APRC Coordinator Ashley Ferguson said they discovered a 37.5 percent noncompliance rate as clerks at 3 stores sold alcohol to the underage youth volunteer.
Since the sales were witnessed by Sheriff's Deputy Jim Gorton, 2 of those clerks then received misdemeanor citations because they sold low-point beer to the youth without requesting or checking ID.
The 3rd clerk worked at a liquor store and was actually arrested and charged with a felony for selling "strong beer, liquor, wine or spirits."
As part of Monday's compliance checks, the 17-year-old volunteer entered each of the alcohol retailers, picked up some alcohol and took it to the counter to check out, Ferguson said. If the clerk asked for his ID, he showed it and if they didn't, he purchased the alcohol and left the store, she said.
If he was allowed to take alcohol out of the store, Ferguson said that is when Gorton entered the store and notified them of their crime. The deputy then issued either a citation in the case of the 2 misdemeanors or made the arrest in the case of the felony.
However, for those stores that were in compliance and refused to sell the alcohol to the minor, the APRC staff member accompanying the minor personally thanked the clerks for following the law. A letter of praise will also be sent to those clerks' bosses, outlining their compliance, Ferguson said.
The 5 stores in compliance were:
• Honk ‘N’ Holler, Woodward;
• Love’s Country Store No. 47, Woodward;
• Jiffy Trip No. 36, Woodward;
• Walgreens, Woodward; and
• Steuart’s Country Store, Fort Supply.
However, Ferguson said APRC declines to identify the noncompliant retailers, as the agency thinks doing so could affect their continued willingness to follow the regulations.
Ferguson said the compliance checks will continue, as NCBH is “hugely concerned” about the 37.5 percent noncompliance rate after Monday's alcohol checks.
Clerks are supposed to check everyone who appears to be underage, she said, preferably asking for identification from anyone who looks like they are younger than 30.
“It’s also the responsibility of the employer to train employees,” Ferguson said. “Failure to train the workers is often considered negligence by the company which employs the clerks.”
She said that under civil liability laws, attorneys, asserting negligence, will go after the person who sold the alcohol as well as the business.
“One of the most efficient ways to reduce alcohol availability to minors is for clerks and waitstaff to ask for and accurately check identification,” Ferguson said. “Elimination of alcohol sales to minors is an important piece of the puzzle in preventing underage drinking.”
Ferguson said that a couple of steps involved in accurately checking an ID are comprised of looking for a red box on a driver’s license which highlights when the holder turns 21. The clerk should also make sure the person who presents the ID is the one pictured on it. And the clerk should feel the ID, to assure nothing has been attached to it, like another photo.
The Area Prevention Resource Center wants to assist retail owners and employees with both alcohol and tobacco sales compliance, Ferguson said. APRC will even help schedule "Responsible Beverage Sale and Service" training for the business owners/managers and workers. Call the APRC for more details at (580) 571-3240.
To report underage drinking, Ferguson encouraged contacting local law enforcement or the 2Much2Lose Hotline at (866) 94-2MUCH.