City’s social host ordinance put to use over weekend

Published 6:48 am Thursday, January 14, 2010

The city’s new law that punishes people for facilitating underage drinking was put to use for the first time over the weekend.

Brian Wayne Voigt, Mitchell Anthony Jaeger and Ryan Thomas Palmer, all 20, were cited for violating the social host ordinance, which was enacted just two months ago.

They all now face misdemeanors for allegedly allowing minors to drink — without taking steps to prevent it — during a Saturday night house party at 800 Second Ave. SW. Jaeger and Voigt were also cited for underage consumption.

Police chief Paul Philipp and Thomas Baudler, an attorney with Austin firm Baudler, Baudler, Maus and Blahnik, said to the best of their knowledge, the social host citations were the first in Austin.

The incident in question occurred around midnight on Saturday. Several officers were called to the house on a report of possible underage drinking and fighting in the street, according to a police report.

When cops arrived, they found about 30 to 40 people — mostly minors — drinking at the home. Several ran upstairs or to the basement, and one man, 19, was cited for underage consumption as he ran outside.

Officers spoke with Voigt, Jaeger and Palmer, who identified themselves as renters of the property. Because of the size of the party, everyone else was sent home without tickets.

Jaeger and Palmer are now scheduled for arraignments on Feb. 8. Voigt’s court date is unclear.

Philipp said the case is a great example of what the new law is meant to combat. He said in other cities that have similar laws, offenders are often younger adults throwing house parties, like those cited Saturday in town.

Austin is one of about 30 cities and counties in Minnesota with such a law on the books. There is no comparable state law, which is why supporters in Austin pushed so hard for the ordinance to pass.

That support came largely from the Austin Area Drug Task Force, a group comprised of various local leaders, including Philipp.

Thor Bergland, a teacher at Austin High School and also a member of the task force, said the law is very important in protecting youngsters’ safety.

“Our goal is to protect the kids,” he said at a November council meeting.

Austin’s ordinance was influenced by a similar law adopted in Albert Lea in December 2008.

Former Austin mayor and current task force member Bonnie Rietz said previously that it’s been effective there.

“Yes, it’s working for them,” Rietz said.

Philipp said he too has heard Albert Lea officials praise their new, tougher law.

The chief said underage drinking is a problem in Austin but this ordinance will allow parents and others a better way to fight it, as was the case Saturday.

“They work,” he said of social host laws.