TABC investigators closed an investigation of The Library Bar without watching a surveillance video that police say shows after-hours drinking and the rape of a passed-out patron, the Star-Telegram has learned.
Fort Worth police had alerted the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in January that they were investigating an alleged rape involving Israel Espiricueta, a new owner of The Library Bar who was in the midst of seeking a liquor license with the agency.
According to the TABC records, a Fort Worth detective told TABC investigator Andrew Pena on Jan. 30 that Espiricueta, the woman he is accused of raping, and other employees had been at the bar after hours and that the woman had blacked out during the assault.
Espiricueta was arrested in February and charged with sexual assault.
TABC records show that the state agency investigated whether the bar sold or delivered alcohol to an intoxicated person and permitted consumption during prohibited hours but closed its case on March 24, noting that no violations were found.
The state agency granted Espiricueta a liquor license on April 3.
"Like any other investigative agency, we have to go through a due process," said Chris Porter, a TABC spokesman. "We can't restrict someone's right to do business until we have a conviction or iron-clad evidence that some sort of wrongdoing took place."
But a police affidavit shows investigators have a crucial piece of evidence in the case — a surveillance video seized from the bar. The Star-Telegram has since learned that TABC was offered a copy of the video by police but never watched it before closing its case.
In the video, according to the affidavit, a woman can be seen inside the bar hours after closing time, socializing and drinking along with several employees and Espiricueta before the woman passes out at the bar.
After everyone else leaves, the affidavit states, the video shows Espiricueta positioning the unconscious woman with her upper torso across the bar and appearing to have sex with her.
The Star-Telegram filed an open records request, seeking records involving the investigation into the closed TABC complaint.
According to those records:
Pena, the TABC investigator, had been granted access on Feb. 14 by a Fort Worth detective to the surveillance video but was told that due to its size, he'd need a 25 GB flash drive.
Pena alerted his supervisors, then told the detective he would get in contact again once he received a flash drive.
The records don't indicate that Pena picked up a copy or watched the video.
Porter said that Pena wasn't able to acquire the necessary equipment needed to look at the video.
Despite this, when prompted for an update on the investigation, Pena's supervisor, Lt. Sheila Doyle, sent TABC Maj. Cathleen Cavazos an email on March 13 that insinuates that the video had been seen. The email contradicts allegations made by Fort Worth police.
"The owner was involved in an alleged sexual assault that did not occur at the L/P (licensed premise)," Doyle wrote in an email to Cavazos. "Initially we thought we had an after hours case but video did not show them consuming after hours."
When contacted about the contradictions in TABC's report, Cavazos said she wasn't aware that the sexual assault had allegedly begun inside the bar.
"That's something I certainly want to look into," Cavazos said. "As far as I was aware, it did not occur on the licensed premises."
Cavazos said she will also have to look into her lieutenant's statement that the video showed no after-hours drinking at the bar when police say in their affidavit that it did. She said, to her knowledge, the agency was not in possession of the video.
"Contradiction or misunderstanding, yeah definitely, but it's something I want to look at and see," Cavazos said when asked about the differences.
Asked if it was concerning to her that the TABC investigation was closed prior to investigators watching the surveillance video, Cavazos responded: "It would be something that we’d definitely want to take a look and ensure everyone’s completing their investigations thoroughly and make sure there’s no miscommunications."
In a later telephone interview, Porter, the TABC spokesman, confirmed the investigator hadn't seen the video before closing his case.
"There was a bit of miscommunication from the lieutenant who thought that one of our folks had looked at the video, which at that point that she had sent that email, that hadn't been the case, unfortunately," Porter said.
In fact, Porter said, the investigator did not view the video until recently after news reports broke about the case.
"Previous to that report, we hadn't seen any evidence or come to any conclusion that an assault took place on the licensed premises," Porter said. "I think there was a second assault that may have taken place off of the licensed premises, which puts it outside of TABC's purview. So once that report came out, then the agent got back in touch with the local police department ... and looked at the video."
When the woman reported the sexual assault to Fort Worth police on Dec. 24, she told officers she only remembered snippets of the night, including Espiricueta driving her in his pickup and sexually assaulting her at a hotel.
It was through the surveillance video that investigators learned the sexual assault had begun at the bar, the police affidavit states.
"If we had known then what we know now, we may have done something slightly different given that we weren't aware of what the Fort Worth Police Department was investigating at the time," Porter said.
Fort Worth police officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The TABC records obtained by the Star-Telegram indicate Pena had spoken with the lead police investigator, Detective A.S. Owen, about the case at least twice.
A detective had also called Tana Travis, regional supervisor of licensing for TABC, on Jan. 10 to alert the agency about the police investigation and that the rape may have occurred at the bar.
"Permit holder is a suspect in a sexual assault that possibly occurred on the premises," Travis wrote in an email to Doyle and Agent Travis Shirley on Jan. 10, summarizing her conversation with the detective. "He stated they (police) tried to obtain the video and were refused and have gone back with search warrant. Wanting someone to contact them to discuss."
Agent Shirley, in turn, emailed Pena, asking the investigator to contact the detective to see what they wanted. The records do not state whether Pena contacted detectives that day, but do show that he talked to Owen about the case on Jan. 30 and Feb. 14.
The TABC records also show that Pena met with a manager of The Library, identified only as Matt, on Feb. 1. During that meeting, Pena explained the complaint he was investigating and asked if any incidents had occurred.
"Matt very casually mentioned 'our owner had an issue with some girl' but indicated that their employees don't drink or allow consumption after hours," Pena wrote in the complaint summary.
The manager also told Pena that Espiricueta had been an owner of the bar since around September.
Inspectors visited the bar again on March 15, March 22 and March 24 but noted no violations.
While the TABC investigation was still ongoing, The Library was seeking to voluntarily cancel its liquor permit. Espiricueta was not listed on the original permit, the records state, but was in the process of seeking a new permit for The Library Bar.
The record shows TABC delayed canceling the former permit while there was still an open complaint being investigated.
After the investigation was closed, however, the former permit was canceled on April 3 and Espiricueta was granted a new mixed beverage permit that same day.
Cavazos acknowledges that even if TABC now finds proof in the video that there had been after-hours consumption, nothing can be done.
"If the permit is no longer active, then there's no administrative actions that can be taken against that permit," she said.
But she said the agency is watching Espiricueta's criminal case and will seek to cancel his liquor license should he be convicted in the sexual assault case.
"If you're convicted of a felony, you can't hold a permit through TABC," she said.