After St. Guillen murder, “Imette’s Law” proposal would require

Issue February 2007 By Andrea R. Barter, Esq.

The tragic death early last year of Boston native Imette St. Guillen, allegedly at the hands of a New York bouncer with a long criminal history, has put a face to an issue Boston City Council President Michael Flaherty has been working on since 2004: mandatory background checks and training for all bouncers and security staff at the city’s bars and nightclubs.

Under the proposed law, now known as “Imette’s Law,” all bouncers, doormen and floor staff of the city’s bars, clubs and other establishments that serve alcohol would have to undergo a background check for violent histories. They would also have to undergo training on how to prevent problem patrons from entering their businesses and how to deal with them if they do.

Flaherty, who said he began working on the proposed law before St. Guillen was killed, had previously noticed a pattern of alleged incidents between bars’ security and patrons. Although no Boston bouncers have been charged with murder, the Boston LicensingDepartment received 84  reports of bouncer-on-customer violence between 2004 and June 2006.

“The vast majority of owners of bars, clubs and other establishments provide a safe environment; however, I think mandatory background checks and proper training for bouncers and doormen is a small thing to ask for the safety of those who patronize our bars and night clubs,” said Flaherty.

Although the legislation was not fully addressed in the last council session, Flaherty will resubmit the issue after ironing out implementation issues raised by local business owners. According to Flaherty’s office, Statehouse Rep. James M. Murphy (D-Weymouth) is sponsoring duplicate legislation.

Proponents of Flaherty’s bill believe that bouncers who have had added training will be less likely to resort to physical violence because they’ve learned other tactics. In addition, the business owners also could be eligible for insurance discounts after the training.

Michael Kelleher, manager of the Faneuil Hall Marketplace, fully supports the proposal. “I spoke to our establishments. Some had reservations, but I told them it was an inexpensive andneeded action to ensure we are providing a safe environment.”

Opponents, including the head of Boston’s Licensing Board, Patricia A. Malone, think the bill needs improvement and is a disproportionate response to the problem. In addition, mandatory training could be cost-prohibitive, especially for smaller bars — a well-founded concern given the frequent turnover in the industry.

Labor and employment attorney Denise I. Murphy, Rubin and Rudman LLP, Boston, thinks the legislation is well-intended, but the primary obstacle will be accessing CORI information. Distribution of CORI information is normally limited to certified agencies, such as those which have access to children or the elderly.

“Typically, restaurants and bars aren’t certified to have access to CORI. They’d have to do something about that statute to allow access without imposing liability on the businesses seeking the information.”

Murphy also suggested implementing a mechanism for training bar and restaurant managers on how to access CORI if allowed, and how to confidentially maintain the information.

In addition, she has reservations as to who will be training the bouncers – what are their qualifications and what is considered adequate certification for their training?

“That’s a safeguard for the company and the potential victim. We want people to be trained appropriately,” said Murphy.

Flaherty said, “Anyone with a history of violence is probably not the best person you want at the door to diffuse conflicts,” said Flaherty. “I also think that many of these incidents can be avoided with proper training, which is to everyone’s benefit.”