The INDY has learned that the three owners of Isaac Hunter’s Hospitality—which owns Paddy O’Beers, Common 414 and Coglin’s in downtown Raleigh—have been charged with wanton destruction of city property, specifically a city-owned bench, in an incident directly related to the city’s recent crackdown on sidewalk patios. There were no mug shots or handcuffs. Rather, the three were given written citations, copies of which the INDY is presently endeavoring to obtain.

According to Zack Medford, one of the three, the charge stems from an incident that happened on Saturday, Aug. 15, the day after I trailed Medford around downtown in an effort to gauge the impact the new rules were having. The night I was there, Raleigh police officers gave Paddy O’Beers—a Fayetteville Street bottle shop whose business model centers on patio drinking—a warning citation for the layout of its sidewalk patio, which was split into two parts with a walkway in the middle (see the pic to your right to get a sense of it). The city had come to believe* that the ABC prohibited such split layouts. It would have to be fixed by the next night.

So on Saturday, co-owners Ben Yannessa and Brad Bowles—Medford says he was in Wilmington with his family that weekend—set about to adhere to what they were told. But they found that under the new arrangement, there were two city benches sticking out into the walkway, bolted to the sidewalk. Because they had to have seven feet of walkway between those benches and their own tables, they found the situation untenable. They could legally have virtually no tables.

They viewed it as a simple choice, Medford says: “Either be closed on the busiest night of the week or unbolt the benches and move them.” (Asking the city to move a bench is a time-consuming, onerous mess, Medford says. They tried once before, at Coglin’s a couple of years ago. It took the city a month and a half.) So they unbolted the benches and moved them, about 10 feet down the sidewalk. Then they cut the old bolts that were sticking out of the ground to avoid a trip hazard. (Those bolts, Medford says, cost about $1 each and were the No big deal, they thought. In fact, Medford says, they thought it so inconsequential that his partners didn’t think to tell him about it for several days. But the city—and the cops—apparently didn’t think it was no big deal. A week later, on Monday morning, Aug. 24, Medford says, Capt. J.J. Matthews of Raleigh PD called his cell phone to inquire about the moved benches. He asked if Medford had moved them. Medford said he hadn’t. Then Matthews asked who did.

Medford declined to immediately divulge the names of the guilty parties. Instead he said he would look into it.

As Medford explains via text message:

Monday morning he went to Paddy O’Beers, and then called my cell phone. I spoke with him, and said I would immediately look into it. Then I came down to talk with him in front of Paddys a few minutes later. He asked me to name names, and I said I couldn’t do that at this time, and that I would take responsibility for it because it’s my business. He told me he had camera footage of who did it, and was it going to be me on the footage. I said no. We went in circles about that for a while. Then I left, and told my business partners and they immediately wanted to meet with him and take responsibility. All three of us went down to the police station. They told their story, and accepted responsibility. All three of us were cited.

Indeed, that evening, Yannessa sent an email to Matthews that read as follows:

I just want to put it out there that Zack Medford had nothing to do with moving the bench. It was mine and Brad’s decision to move it. Zack did not even know about it until well after we did it and he was not happy we made that decision.

They were given a court date of Oct. 6—election day in the city of Raleigh, Medford notes—according to the citation. They thought that would be the end of it.

But then this morning, a source reached out to the INDY saying that Medford had cut the iron benches off the sidewalk on Monday night, had been arrested and booked (the source was apparently mistaken as to details), and that there would be a story in the N&O tomorrow. That message was relayed to me. I called Medford to confirm.

Medford typed out an email to Matthews: “I am getting calls from reporters telling me that I am being charged today with a criminal offense. Is this something new? Should I come down to the station?”

Matthews replied, “No. We have handled our incident. I’m not aware of anything else.”

“I want to make it very clear,” Medford told me. “The benches themselves were completely unharmed. They removed a bolt, lifted them from the anchor, and walked 10 feet down the sidewalk. The only ‘damage’ was cutting the bolts that were sticking up out of the ground after the bench had been moved.”

More details on as they come. But for now, here’s an interesting kicker: This morning, assistant zoning administrator Robert Pearce sent out an email to Shop Local Raleigh executive director confirming that split layouts—the thing the Paddy owners were told they could not have, which prompted the bench-moving incident—is now A-OK:

The City of Raleigh will accept split seating areas from all establishments regardless of alcohol service. Alcohol service can occur on the street side area provided that all other Code requirements are met. The City has worked with ABC and has received verbal confirmation that street side alcohol service will be permitted. We will be sending out an email to all businesses this week that will clarify key areas related to successful processing of outdoor seating permits.

Update: Raleigh PD public affairs officer Jim Sughrue emails: “The incident involved unbolting two benches that were fastened to the sidewalk, grinding down the mounting bolts that protruded from the sidewalk and moving the benches away from their original location in front of 121 Fayetteville Street. One bench was moved to the north of its original location, and the other was moved to the south.”

Update 2: Earlier this morning, I received word that Marchell Adams David, an assistant city manager who has largely spearheaded the sidewalk ordinance, had asked for a meeting with
N&O reporter Andy Specht for this morning on this very subject. Then I heard that David was taking Specht to Paddy to show him the “damage.” So I asked our Raleigh-based staff writer, Jane Porter, to walk down there and check it out. Porter saw David, Specht and a police officer on the corner of Fayetteville talking. Bowles told her that David was here to show him where the benches used to be. Bowles says he had offered to pay for any damage to the benches and apologizes, and adds that he believes his bars are being targeted by ALE inspectors and police and fire officials, who have shown up at his bars with increased frequency in recent weeks (e.g., three ALE inspections).

*Correction: The split-layout issue was with ABC, not particular to this new ordinance. Sorry for the confusion.

*Update: Medford informed me this morning (Dec. 19, 2015) that the charges against him had been dropped.