By Shereen Siewert
City leaders on Tuesday officially revoked the liquor license for a west-side tavern owner whose establishment drew nearly two dozens of police calls since 2019 including multiple incidents that involved weapons.
Last week members of the Public Health and Safety Committee concluded the license for Roc’s Place, 810 S. Third Ave., should be revoked, forwarding their findings to the full council. The committee’s decision came after hours of testimony that included statements from officers assigned to the area who described fights, reports of shots fired and a lack of cooperation by bar staff during investigations.
On April 16, Wausau Police Capt. Todd Baeten filed a formal complaint against Tim Nawrocki, owner of Roc’s Place, detailing the reasons for his concern. In his complaint, Baeten alleged that Nawrocki keeps a “disorderly or riotous, indecent or improper house,” an accusation based on Baeten’s personal knowledge and review of city records.
In his complaint, Baeten notes that Roc’s Place has been the subject of five weapons incidents and more than a dozen complaints involving fights either inside the bar or in the parking lot since Jan. 1, 2019.
Baeten pointed to several incidents including one on Feb. 20 in which Nawrocki and his employees allegedly failed to cooperate with an investigation involving a fight and a handgun, first by failing to report the incident and then omitting about 90 minutes of surveillance video. In that instance, the video was later recovered, revealing a fight and a convicted felon carrying a firearm, according to incident reports.
Nawrocki was subsequently required to appear in front of the Committee May 17 for a hearing on the matter. He had previously come before the committee during a June 15 meeting for a “formal expression of concern.”
Three days after the committee’s May 17 decision, Nawrocki’s attorney, Daniel Cveykus sent a letter to the city objecting to the findings, claiming that his client was denied a fair and impartial hearing. Cveykus asked the council to deny the committee’s findings and allow Nawrocki to retain his license.
Assistant City Attorney Tara Alfonso on Tuesday said the 150 demerit points issued to Roc’s Place also support the revocation, adding that the evidence is “beyond question” that Nawrocki is unable to control his tavern. In council materials, she presented body cam video, photos of bullet casings and other evidence to support the argument to for revocation.
“What the evidence shows is that at Roc’s Place…there is an increasing pattern of violence,” Alfonso said. “The danger at this bar…is greater than that at nearby taverns.”
Nearby taverns, Alfonso said, had far fewer complaints over the same period of time. “The community, neighbors, passers by…should not have to shoulder the burden and suffer the dangerous activities that erupt and spill out from this tavern,” she said. “The mix of alcohol with firearms, with guns, should not be taken lightly.”
Nawrocki, on May 17, admitted there have been firearms issues at the tavern. But Atty. Cveykus argued that the number of calls to Roc’s doesn’t necessarily translate to complaints. He further argued that Nawrocki should not be penalized for calling police, suggesting that nearby tavern operators don’t call police so they won’t be issued demerit points. He asked that Nawrocki’s license be suspended, rather than revoked, “at most.”
Lisa Rasmussen, who represents Dist. 7, said the council was under no obligation to offer a suspension, rather than a revocation, and said the police department encourages cooperation from tavern owners and staff to ensure the safety of patrons.
“When the bartender calls the police…they typically don’t assess demerit points,” she said. “We sat through six hours of testimony…and we believe the city proved its case sufficiently. At what point does this situation ever get better?”
Rasmussen said it is unfair to the tavern owners “who do it right every day” to keep this one open, especially in light of the potential danger to the neighborhood.
Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven said Alder Tom Neal’s suggestion that metal detectors or other measures could mitigate the situation are “wishful thinking.”
“What stops behaviors is managers, bartenders who know how to de-escalate situations,” Bliven said. “None of those things are things that are happening at Roc’s place…and I think a revocation is appropriate.”
The council chose not to go into closed session to discuss the issue and voted 8 to 1 to revoke Nawrocki’s license. A roll call vote was not taken, and it was unclear Tuesday who cast the dissenting vote.