State liquor regulators canceled the license of the north Lincoln Heidelberg’s sports bar Wednesday, saying they lost confidence in the owner’s ability to follow the law after a melee erupted there during an after-party for the Terence "Bud" Crawford boxing match in August.
Owner John McManus told the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission he would no longer host parties for promoters at his bar following the overnight Aug. 19 incidents, which drew as many as 30 police officers to the bar just west of 33rd and Superior streets.
Still, the commission found McManus guilty of allowing a disturbance at the bar, which he has owned nearly 20 years.
Commission Chairman Bob Batt said it was "as bad as it gets, short of someone getting killed."
Batt criticized McManus for ceding control of his bar to someone he barely knew: "This was a recipe for disaster."
Five Lincoln police officers testified about the Heidelberg's melee, which they said was fueled by drunken feuding between people with ties to rival North Omaha gangs. Crawford is from Omaha.
Two other bars canceled their after-parties after police warned them of massive fighting at an Omaha bar following the boxer's fight there in 2016.
When Sgt. Michelle Jochum went to McManus' bar the night of the event, she informed him that other bars had canceled and told him what happened in Omaha, she testified. He responded: "Oh, don't tell me that."
Following the fight at Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln, a line hundreds of people long waited outside the bar, where the cover charge was $20. A team of 15 Lincoln police officers watched those in the parking lot, the officers testified.
A thunderstorm chased many people away or inside, but shortly before 2 a.m., fighting erupted in the bar, which holds 440 people, the officers testified. The bar also had nine private security guards on duty.
Hundreds of people fought inside the bar — beer bottles flew through the air, officers testified — and police couldn't quell the melee inside, so dispatchers requested backup from every available officer in the city.
"It's as bad as I've seen in 18 years," said Lincoln Police Sgt. Jon Kossow.
People threatened to shoot each other. One person wielded a broken beer bottle as a weapon in the parking lot. Three women assaulted a woman lying motionless on the ground outside.
Officers trying to arrest people had to brandish Tasers and, in one case, use pepper spray to keep angry crowds from encroaching on them.
Ultimately, four people were arrested — all from Omaha, police said. Officers could have arrested more, but focused on dispersing the crowd instead.
Officers spent almost 20 minutes trying to break up fights, and were able to leave the bar at 3 a.m.
This wasn't the first problem police had at Heidelberg’s this year, Officer Max Hubka of the department's gang unit testified.
In April, police ticketed 10 people for drug offenses and recovered two guns following a disturbance at the bar that followed a rap concert, Hubka said.
McManus told the commission his bar sometimes has problems when promoters host hip-hop shows there, because he doesn't always know who they are bringing along.
"I'm about hip-hopped out because of the problems," McManus told the commission, adding that he canceled a promoted event following the Aug. 19 fracas.
During closing arguments, his attorney, Charles D. Humble, said he didn't think the bar could have hired a big enough security force.
"It is regrettable that this occurred, but I can't see how the licensee should be penalized," Humble said.
But on Batt's motion, the commission deviated from the normal 5- to 15-day suspension set forth in its guidelines.
"It was extremely harsh," Humble said afterward.
The bar at 4620 Bair Ave. must cease alcohol sales in a week, when the commission's order takes effect.
McManus declined to comment on the decision or whether he would appeal.
After the hearing, Batt said the commission has canceled licenses for Omaha bars following shootings. Its unanimous ruling Wednesday sends a signal to bar owners statewide.
"I wanted to send the strongest possible message that if you do dangerous things it’s going to cost you,” Batt said.