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What Happened at Cactus Gallery on Saturday Night

“Loud music” was the trigger, says LAPD Capt. Bill Murphy, and serving alcohol without a permit is illegal.

It’s a mystery that will probably haunt Sandra Mastroianni forever: Why, after 84 art shows, would the Los Angeles Police Department give her citations for serving alcohol and hosting live music—something she has done many times before at Cactus Gallery, the store on Eagle Rock Boulevard she has owned for nearly eight years?

It’s also a question that owners of other art galleries across Northeast L.A. would be wise to take note of. Regardless of past practices, if they attract the attention of the LAPD by serving alcohol or allowing live music without proper permits, they could get fined.

Busting a Potluck Party

Mastroianni’s travails began on the night of Saturday, Dec. 8, when as many 10 plainclothes LAPD officers showed up at her gallery in four cars, effectively disrupting what she described as a “potluck party,” replete with "middle-aged folks, infants, children, food, drink, whole families."

One of the LAPD officers had a bulletproof vest, with the word “Police” emblazoned on the back, according to Mastroianni. She was cited for serving alcohol and hosting live music. Most of Mastroianni’s guests left soon after the police arrived, she said.

The tickets, given at 8:15 p.m.—a far from unholy time—have sent shock waves across the regional art community, not least because this is the last month that Mastroianni’s gallery will remain open. (Cactus Gallery is scheduled to close Dec. 24 because, as Mastroianni tells it, the landlord who owns the property reneged on a promise to sell her the building where the store is located. Instead, the landlord has sold the building to someone else, according to Mastroianni.)

“I think we were targeted on purpose,” Mastroianni told Patch on Tuesday in the midst of handling what she said was a flood of customers and outraged sympathizers who had rallied around her after hearing the news of the citations on Patch as well as her Facebook page.

“Are they trying to use me as an example?” she asked, adding: “Our neighbors love us and our landlord loves us, so we don’t think anybody complained.”

Was the Music Too Loud?

Capt. Bill Murphy, the commander of the LAPD Northeast Area Community Police Station, concedes that it wasn’t a complaint that led his officers to Mastroianni’s gallery.

In a Tuesday interview to Patch, Murphy explained that Sgt. Fernando Carrasco, who heads the Northeast station’s vice unit, was patrolling Eagle Rock on Saturday when he “heard noise that was really loud for the area.”

When Carrasco went into the gallery, he discovered that a live band was playing and that alcohol was being served, according to Murphy. “I don’t think they were selling it, but some people got upset and really vocal and the sergeant decided to call more units,” Murphy said.

Mastroianni had set up a portable wooden bar in her gallery and placed a jar on top of it for tips, as she has done on numerous occasions in the past. She did not, however, sell any alcohol, she emphasized, even though that’s what she has been cited for.

Mastroianni denies the music at her gallery was noisy. “It was not loud,” she said. “It was a very sad and somber night.” The band, consisting of three women and a man, “maybe played two and a half songs” when the vice squad arrived, she said.

If anything, Spoke(n) Art, a group of regional bicycle riders who tour Northeast L.A.’s art galleries on the second Saturday of each month, and who dropped into Cactus that night, made a lot more noise. “They ride with a boom box and their music was louder than ours,” Mastroianni said.

The gallery owner does admit, however, that the people in her store got upset when the undercover officers arrived. “They were telling them, What are you doing? This is the [store’s] last night. There are friends and family here. Go fight crime.”

No Permit, No Alcohol Allowed

“The point that needs to be known is that an art gallery or any other business—a laundromat, tire shop, whatever—can’t just bring in wine and cheese and serve it,” Murphy said. “You have to get a permit for that—and that didn’t happen.”

Serving alcohol in a party atmosphere at art galleries has been what Murphy referred to as “a big deal” not in Eagle Rock but in nearby Silver Lake. Many galleries in the neighborhood would typically be open to “hundreds of people [with] alcohol flowing,” he said.

“You can’t be an art gallery that decides to serve alcohol,” Murphy said. “If you want to do that, there’s a way to do it—request a one-time event permit.” Besides a one-time permit to serve alcohol, which costs about $25 to $50, permits are also issued for one-time entertainment of the kind underway at Cactus Gallery on Saturday night, the captain said.

What if …

Asked if the vice officers at Cactus Gallery might have been lenient if the partygoers inside hadn’t kicked up a fuss, Murphy said the LAPD “couldn’t look the other way”—not just because a business “can’t dispense alcohol without a permit” but because of potential liability for the LAPD.

“If somebody [from the Cactus Gallery party] got drunk and got into a car accident, we’d be sued in a heartbeat if we didn’t cite them,” Murphy said.

Asked why Cactus’s Mastroianni was cited when she’s hardly the only art gallery owner in Northeast L.A. who has served alcohol to customers and guests, Murphy said: “It really boils down to what we know. In this particular case, there was a live band that brought attention to itself.”

Getting Permits

Getting a permit from Alcohol Beverage Control, the state agency that oversees the licensing and law enforcement of alcohol sales, isn’t difficult, Murphy said, adding that a one-day ABC permit is “basically between the ABC, the captain, and you.” He offered the example of Occidental College, whose alumni host an annual event where alcohol is served, and who get the necessary permit for doing so.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Murphy said. “We like to be accommodating, but we can’t let the issue get out of control.”

NELA Vice Sweep?

The Northeast station’s vice squad is constantly checking on the roughly 360 bars and restaurants that have ABC licenses, Murphy said, adding that each establishment requires an inspection every two years.

The Northeast station captain denied that his vice squad has been aggressively targeting bars and restaurants in parts of Northeast L.A. lately, as a source who works closely with several targeted bars in Highland Park and Cypress Park told Patch on condition of anonymity.

While Carrasco has been on the job regularly as the head of the Northeast station’s vice unit for only the past year or so, the sergeant has plenty of experience working the vice beat, Murphy said. “It’s not that they’re doing anything different,” the captain said of the vice unit.

Community Meeting Next Week

Meanwhile, Murphy is planning to call a meeting sometime next week to explain the process whereby local businesses can apply for a one-time permit to serve alcohol on their premises.

The planned meeting followed talks that Murphy said he had with the office of Council member José Huizar Tuesday regarding Mastroianni’s citations.

Correction: The LAPD officers who arrived at Cactus Gallery were not "undercover," as an earlier version of this article said. They were plainclothes officers who weren't wearing uniforms.

nonoise December 12, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Officers have no discretion on citing for noise if they have to return to the crime scene. Yes, noise is a crime. And, they do not have discretion when people are serving alcohol illegally. Learn the laws. Knowledge is everything.
Xrosas December 12, 2012 at 07:27 PM
everytime somebody is having a large and loud gang party in Highland Park, somebody calls the LAPD and they never come. you think maybe LAPD cites some people and doesn't cite others? I'm shocked at the reality of the situation
nonoise December 12, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Liquor laws are very important. Food4Less and some other places in Northeast have to stop selling liquor at 10:00PM. There are lots of liquor laws in place for some very good reasons. Laws need to be followed.
Rob Schraff December 12, 2012 at 07:36 PM
The law and order crowd in Eagle Rock, particularly in the ERNC, has been very vocal about swearing, public drinking (particularly in the park) and medical marijuana. (With hardly a word about massage parlors from the same local patriarchs, go figure.) Jose Huizar, who's tried (and failed miserably!) to make his anti-marijuana, law and order reputation on the backs of said Babbits, also used exactly this strategy to shut down another gallery and take over the local art walk. More recently, four cars and a squad of cops, some in flack jackets, arrive to take down a gallery party, where - gasp! - some people were drinking against the strict letter of the law. Conspiracy? Connecting the dots? In any case, I think we can agree that more education on how to grease the councilman, his staff, and the permit process is definitely needed.
Andrew Hindes December 12, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Actually, I'm not sure what the point of making a supermarket stop selling liquor at 10 is, when bars are open till 2, but anyway, how is an art opening serving wine and cheese a menace to society?
Andrew Hindes December 12, 2012 at 07:52 PM
So, the cops can't do anything about the local brothels. They don't respond to calls about people doing drugs out in the open on Hill Drive. But they raided that art opening full of families with their wine and cheese and music. Take that, Northeast L.A. crime!
Andrew Hindes December 12, 2012 at 07:54 PM
I think it would be worth making a call to the Councilman's office about this. Every major city has art openings with wine and cheese, and I've never heard of one being raided by the police. If that's actually L.A.'s policy, it makes us look idiotic.
Andrew Hindes December 12, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Well said, Josef.
Andrew Hindes December 12, 2012 at 08:10 PM
I'm not part of any online mob, but I will call Huizar to suggest that the law regarding art galleries being required to get a "permit" to serve wine and beer, indoors at a small art opening be rescinded. As has been said better elsewhere, places like Cactus Gallery and people like its owner make Eagle Rock--and Northeast L.A. in general--a better place to live. We shouldn't be shaking them down for $50 permits or giving them citations for doing what they do.
Andrew Hindes December 12, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I agree that bringing every issue back to the recent ERNC election and medical marijuana is utterly unproductive--and incredibly boring. Reasonable people who disagree about that issue can probably find common ground on others, like this one. So let's agree on what we can and improve what we can. If you think 10 cops raiding an art opening is a waste of police resources and the law should be changed, let the Councilman know.
Andrew Hindes December 12, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Usually when the cops are called about a noisy party--or hear it themselves--they ask the offenders to turn it down. Citations are only given if the noise continues. It sounds as though something else was going on here. Either Carrasco got embarassed when he was told to go fight crime or someone had an axe to grind.
kelly thompson December 12, 2012 at 08:20 PM
This just in "Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar faces a $10,500 fine from the city Ethics Commission for violations related to his 2011 reelection campaign." http://www.scpr.org/blogs/politics/2012/12/10/11479/councilman-jose-huizar-faces-10k-fine-2011-campaig/.
kelly thompson December 12, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Nonoise, are businesses allowed to let people bring and drink at a party? What are the laws since you seem so informed? Do share.
kelly thompson December 12, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Is it Vice's job to investigate noise?
nonoise December 12, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Northeast LAPD needs to cite churches for loud music too!! Disturbing the peace!!
Lightnapper December 12, 2012 at 11:09 PM
The gallery owner does admit, however, that the people in her store got upset when the undercover officers arrived. “They were telling them, What are you doing? This is the [store’s] last night. There are friends and family here. Go fight crime.” They call that "contempt of cop" in the LE world> I often makes "inadequate" Coppers get "badge heavy," especially the machisimo ones. A verbal warning is normally the appropriate response, especially since a LE officer has the legal discretion to issue an infraction ticket or cite for a misdemeanor in the Great State of California. Or, they can just tell the offending party to behave. And if they have to come back, it's not going to be a good thing. It's basically the individual officer's personal choice. The standard training protocal and usual response on "1st visit" noise complaint is to-- "ask...tell...make." This fine example of the new & improved L.A.P.D. apparently went straight to make. Another sad day in "liberal-hipster" Eagle Rock. At least, they weren't smoking God's Herb-- imagine the SWAT team response for that one, especially in "dry" Eagle Rock.
Rosalita Jump December 12, 2012 at 11:41 PM
And how about the nuisance of the waves of bike riders leaving trash and beer debris in their wake? I guess eco-conscious art-loving bike riders here consider littering their right. I used to ride with a pack in N. Calif and we carried our own trash bags like hikers. I guess in So Cal leaving trash for others to pick up is OK as long as you love art.
nonoise December 12, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Police can cite for noise problems on the first visit. It is done all the time.
nonoise December 12, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Kelly, I am not an expert on liquor laws. I am only an expert on noise issues. Noise was the reason the police officers stopped in the first place. If they would have kept their noise to themselves and not disturbed their neighbors they would not had a problem.
Jerry Langford December 13, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Well said, Lightnapper. But if they were smoking pot, they wouldn't have gotten a citation. The laws about alcohol are very clear; the ones about pot (if there are any) are not. The idea that ER is a dry town, or an anti-pot town, is a foolish ruse put up by the OG Eagle Rock dopes who want to keep ER a dirty, ugly dump. The recent opposition in ER against pot shops was an aesthetic one, not a moral one.
kelly thompson December 13, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Oh cool just hoped to get more info. I hope to be involved in the meeting with the Captain and Galleries. I will say I saw the ticket and she was sited for "selling" not "serving" and that is an out right false charge. So we shall see what the rules are and hopefully Sandra will be spared this financial burden as she exits this space.
kelly thompson December 13, 2012 at 07:27 PM
On the noise subject my pal Susan Weber could sure use your advice about barking dog. Sorry all not to get off subject but dang she's got a doozie.
Lightnapper December 13, 2012 at 09:12 PM
For the most part agreed, although I did observe some "morality" issues on both sides of that Reefer Madness quagmire. My real point is that it's an officer's "personal choice" whether to issue an infraction or to cite for a misdemeanor. They make the final call. Even in DUI's, especially when it's theirown or another city official involved. However, and often, in cases like this, they simply issue a stern warning, and it's a wrap. Or, as Chickie Baby would say, "No Harm. No Foul!" It was a great waste of limited-- "their assertion"-- police resources, expensive for the taxpayer, and it got the mostly already "disrespected/untrusted" LAPD a lot of bad press. It's not a good situation, except it brings to light how the system operates. The bottom line-- it was handled in a very heavy-handed way. No proof, but I believe because of "contempt of cop." Why else call in the Calvary? "Maa'm. I need you to keep the noise down. I also observe alcohol is being served here. I need to inform you that you need a permit for that. Otherwise, I may have to cite you." "Sorry officer, but I'm not selling it jus' serving it." "Doesn't matter ma'am. A permit is required to serve alcohol at an event in Los Angeles." "I'll get rid of it right away, officer." "Good. You do that... and have a nice evening." "You too, officer. Sorry to have bothered you." "No problem, ma'am. Enjoy your gathering."
Bandelier Pilferage December 15, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Lets get real LAPD. Get over to Verdugo Rd where Eagle Rock and San Fernando Rd intersects. All day and sometime night music that is blaring. Garrish INDIO crap that is never turned down like much of the barrio. People of English get ticketed for same and the Spics plead ignorance. No comphrende. Got that figured? Thats right, the agenda. English not required.
nonoise December 16, 2012 at 06:38 AM
That is like an officer stopping someone for a DUI and the driver saying, "I am sorry officer". And, then the officer saying that's o.k. and letting them go. It does not work that way. Police are there to enforce the law. They do give some breaks but serving alcohol without a license is like getting a DUI. It is a serious offense that can not be given a break.
nonoise December 16, 2012 at 06:47 AM
Kelly, there are barking dog laws if the dog barks more than 30 minutes at one time. The dog is board. It is not the dog's fault. The owner needs to either get a second dog to play with the dog or your friend could buy the dog some dog toys and/or bones. Maybe your friend could offer the neighbor to take the dog for a walk or to the dog park. The dog is lonely and board.
Lightnapper December 16, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Actually, it makes perfect sense, and it often does work that way. I walked the walk. I don't just talk the talk. Infractions and misdemeanors are often "forgiven" by LE-- excluding domestic violence, a state mandate. Even outstanding Warrants are sometimes ignored depending on the exigent circumstances. It's a decision made at a particular officer's discretion during an individual encounter, and may depend on the "calls for service" volume. Arresting for a felony offense is a completely different matter. Generally speaking, nothing's written in stone, like the Ten Commandments, when working the street. As they say, there's the Academy Way, and then there's the Street Way. Which do you think is adopted by P-Dogs? It's a fluid environment which is often dangerous and unpredictable. Once again simply put-- "Letter of the Law vs. Spirit of the Law." Having a little "wiggle room" is how LE "wins the hearts and minds" of the citizens it serves. And, unfortunately-- many LE and other "connected," as well as some just plain lucky folks, have walked/taxied/been ferried by comrades away from a potential DUI arrest. It happens regularly. And, for God's sake, serving a glass of wine at an art gallery with 1 acoustic guitar without a 1 day "permit" is nowhere near the severity of a potentially deadly DUI. "What-ifs" don't count! Thank God you're not a Copper. That badge would be so heavy, you couldn't lift your Sam Browne off the Locker Room bench. "You have a nice, quiet Sunday, ma'am."
kelly thompson December 16, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Thank you for those insightful and wise words lightnapper. I really hope those who would be so ridged and lacking compassion can learn from your words. Like I said before they will be better people for it.
kelly thompson December 16, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Great advice on the dog nonoise. I am however sad that you don't have as much compassion in the gallery's citation as a potential dog owner citation and are willing to give second chances to some but not others. You in fact are going against your own ridged rules of no forgiveness no warnings in this case. Neither is a felony but the small business that is vital to many of us in the community should get the book thrown at her without a warning. While the dog owner that is a menus to the whole neighborhood should be shown compassion. Hum...
kelly thompson December 16, 2012 at 07:00 PM
I can tell you that my friend had his two babies in the gallery with out complaining about the noise. He is a stickler for noise even without the family there and would not have hesitated to let Sandra know to turn it down. Or for that matter let his twin babies in if it were two noisy. He is photographed with the babies and had no complaints of the noise. I think the whole police action on the art walks was prearranged and that the account of a random stumble upon is a lie. They also were out in force on York among the other galleries, it was a planned inspection and raid. I truly believe that.

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