Wednesday, August 28, 1996
Liquor agents' Riverbend bust hard to swallow

The Cincinnati Enquirer

This is what Jill Lamkin did on her summer vacation.

She got a $5-an-hour job at Riverbend selling pizza, soft drinks and beer. She also got arrested, frisked, handcuffed and humiliated before a cast of thousands.

Not to mention charged with a first-degree misdemeanor - selling beer to a minor - that could end up in a $1,000 fine and - or a six-month jail term.

Jill came to Riverbend after working at a nursing home near her Delhi Township home for the past three summers. She wanted a change of scene. So she went to work at the amphitheater's concrete-block concession stand with a crew of college kids, including her best friend.

For the 19-year-old honors student at Ohio State, it was a fun job.

Until the night of Aug. 11.

Dazed and confused

The Aug. 11 rock concert was two hours old. Jill had just rung up a sale on her cash register when a co-worker approached. State liquor agents were in the kitchen and wanted to talk.

Jill went back to find two agents, one male, one female, and a citation filled out and resting on top of a sink.

''I was shaking,'' she recalls. ''I had no idea what was going on. Nobody told me I had done anything wrong.''

She knew liquor agents were on the grounds that night and checking for underage drinkers in the crowd of 14,424. By the end of the show, 66 arrests had been made. Included in that number were 49 minors for alcohol violations and one concessionaire, Jill Lamkin.

''I'm not stupid,'' says the teen-ager with two academic scholarships and a 3.3 grade-point average. ''I card everyone. I don't sell to people who are underage.''

That night, she was working elbow to elbow with her boss, Vic Nolting. The president of Coney Island, Riverbend's concessionaire, Mr. Nolting was dishing up pizzas because the staff was shorthanded. Before the night was over, he would be pitching a fit.

In the kitchen, the male agent, Edward Yee, asked Jill: ''Did you sell a beer to an 18-year-old who was very intoxicated?''

When Jill said ''no,'' the female agent, Cynthia McLaughlin, barked:

''Turn around and spread your legs. Put your hands against the sink.''

Without reading Jill her rights or charging her with any crime, Agent McLaughlin frisked the teen-ager.

By this time, Vic Nolting was in the kitchen to protest the frisking. He grew angry when he saw handcuffs snapped around his employee's wrists.

His anger increased as Jill - in front of her co-workers, her best friend and thousands of concertgoers - was taken from the concession stand. Instead of leaving by a back door, the agents paraded her through the crowd.

''Vic went crazy when I was put in handcuffs,'' Jill notes. ''He had to be restrained. I was justing walking and sobbing. People in the crowd were pointing and laughing at me.''

Mr. Nolting followed Jill and the agents out the door, through the crowd and into the parking lot. While Jill was led away in handcuffs and tears, her boss kept asking:

''Why are you doing this? Why are you completely humiliating this girl?''

The female agent kept saying:

''This is policy. This is procedure.''

For the kids

''It is procedure,'' insists Earl Mack, agent in charge of the Cincinnati district of the Ohio Department of Public Safety's liquor enforcement section. ''If you are going to arrest someone, they have to be handcuffed. But there's some discretion an agent can exercise.''

Discretion needed a strenuous workout in the case of Jill Lamkin. She was not resisting arrest. And she is innocent - a plea her attorney plans to enter today - until proven guilty.

The agents were not arresting a 300-pound gorilla swinging a baseball bat at their heads. They were dealing with a cooperative, upstanding citizen. Their actions - while going by the book - showed a severe lapse of good sense.

Understand, I do not endorse underage drinking or selling beer to minors. I'm glad liquor agents are doing their part to protect kids from getting drunk and piling a car into a tree.

But, while those agents were at Riverbend, they overlooked one important fact: The person they were hauling off in cuffs - and through the crowd - is a kid, too.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.