Hillsville Mayor Greg Crowder was found guilty Thursday in Bristol General District Court of impersonating a law enforcement officer.
After reading the verdict, Judge Blake McKinney sentenced Crowder to 90 days in jail with 60 days suspended and a $500 fine. Crowder’s wife, Rebecca LouAnne Crowder, was found not guilty of the same charge. Both stem from a March 14, 2013 incident that led to their arrests in August of last year.
Greg Crowder has appealed, and his appeal hearing is set for March 10 in Bristol Circuit Court.
After Crowder entered a plea of not guilty to the misdemeanor charge, Bristol City Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bradwell called four employees of Outback Steakhouse in Bristol as witnesses. Bradwell first called Edward Kaiser, a partner intern at the restaurant.
Kaiser said he returned from an event when travel manager Stacy Craig asked him to speak to Crowder.
“He introduced himself as an off-duty ABC agent that had seen incidents at the table across from him,” Kaiser said.
Crowder told Kaiser he witnessed ABC violations of individuals being “overserved” and given “Styrofoam to-go cups.” Kaiser testified Crowder said he was an off-duty ABC agent and he didn’t want to have to call an in ABC agent. Kaiser said he and Crowder had two different conversations about different alcohol-related issues.
“He didn’t want to see me lose my license,” Kaiser said. “I was the partner intern at the time, and I was very uneasy and intimidated.”
Kaiser said he fired the server waiting the table across from the Crowder’s because he was afraid Outback could lose its ABC license.
“He stated he could contact people overseeing our area and he didn’t want to do that,” Kaiser said of Crowder.
Kaiser said Crowder’s wife was with her husband during the second conversation. Defense attorney Robert Ward wanted to know what Mrs. Crowder said to him. Kaiser said he couldn’t recall, but the gist was they both were agents.
Kaiser said Greg Crowder also appeared to be very knowledgeable about ABC issues. Being race weekend, he also said he knew agents would be out looking for violations.
“He made it clear he wanted me to be aware of it and he didn’t want us to get in trouble,” Kaiser said.
Asked if Crowder referred to other ABC agents, Kaiser said Crowder referred to the name Brian. Kaiser said he thought he remembered that name as an ABC agent. Later, ABC agent Brian Edwards testified.
Kaiser said the Crowders were offered to be moved to another table, but elected to stay. He later was asked to show security camera footage showing himself and Crowder speaking at the restaurant, as well as a still photo of the Crowders in the restaurant. The video did not include audio.
“There is no sound, but they prove (Crowder’s) present,” Bradwell said.
Ward then took his turn to question Kaiser. He asked if he spoke to the traveling manager and bartender prior to speaking with Crowder.
“They told you there was an ABC agent there, didn’t they?” Ward asked. “So the first you heard about it was from your employees?”
Kaiser said he checked on the table Crowder complained about and he found four beers, a bottle of wine, and empty Styrofoam to go cups.
“You believe he told you he was an ABC agent?” Ward asked.
“Not believed, he did say it,” Kaiser said.
Ward asked Kaiser if Crowder asked him for any favors such as free meals. He also asked if Crowder was drunk. Kaiser said no to both questions.
Craig, a traveling manager from Tennessee helping the Bristol restaurant during race weekend, said her bartender first approached her about a complaint of a table being “loud and obnoxious.” In response, she said she offered to move the Crowders to another table, but they refused. She said she stood at a back wall to observe the table in question. She said the people at the table were 22 or 23 years old and were drinking, “but they weren’t doing anything inappropriate.”
Craig said Crowder briefly left the building, came back in and stated he was an ABC agent. She said she went to Kaiser because she was unfamiliar with how to handle the situation.
Ward asked Craig if anything had happened since that night to affect her memory. She said no. Ward then informed Craig she didn’t write in her statement to Sewell that Crowder was an ABC agent.
“No, I said with ABC,” Craig said.
Bobbie Dotson, an employee of Outback at the time of the incident, said Crowder came to her twice to complain about the table across from him.
“He told me he was an ABC agent, there was a disruptive table and he wanted to see a manager,” Dotson said. “He said he could get (a waiter) fired and the restaurant in trouble.”
Ward asked if Dotson put in her statement to Sewell that Crowder said he was an ABC agent. Like Craig, Dotson said she wrote Crowder was “with ABC.” She testified, however, that Crowder told her more than once he was an ABC agent. Ward wanted to know why Crowder would have to tell her twice that he was an ABC agent.
“Maybe to stress that he was,” Dotson said. “I have no idea.”
Jennifer Martin was the Crowder’s waitress and she said they were very nice. They talked about Crowder owning a store in Hillsville. He had complained about the table next to them being rowdy, but Martin said she didn’t think they were “that rowdy.”
“The next thing I know he said he was an officer,” Martin said. “He said they were loud and (the waiter) kept giving them alcohol. He said he was an officer and wanted to speak to my manager.”
Upon questioning by Ward, however, he noted Martin wrote in her statement only that Crowder had a store, not that he said he was an ABC agent.
Next to the testify was ABC Special Agent Brian Edwards. He said he knew Crowder because his Race-In business is licensed with ABC, and the two went to high school together. Questioned by Ward, Edwards said he had seen a sign in Crowder’s store about alcohol. Ward wanted to know what ABC managers do. Edwards said they make decisions about alcohol in the store, but they are not employed by ABC.
Ward then asked Judge McKinney to strike the charge against Crowder’s wife. There were no words to misconstrue she was an agent, he said, only “the gist” that Kaiser thought she was in the same position as her husband. That was not enough to find her guilty, Ward argued. McKinney dened the motion to strike.
Ward then called Special Agent Sewell from the Virginia ABC to testify. Sewell said he took statements from Martin, King and Dotson. When asked if any of them wrote that Crowder called himself an ABC agent, Sewell said not to his knowledge.
Bobby Baxter, of Kingsport, Tenn., testified he was at Outback that night. He is also involved in NASCAR and has known Greg Crowder for “a while.” Baxter said he never heard Crowder identify himself as an agent, “just that he had a license for selling liquor or beer.”
Ward then called Greg Crowder to the stand. Crowder said he has an ABC license for beer in his Hillsville store. He said he and his wife had gone to Bristol for the race and stopped at Outback for dinner.
Ward asked Crowder if he drank that night.
“Nothing,” Crowder said.
Did you pay your tab, Ward asked?
“In full,” Crowder said.
He said people at the table next to him were drinking, very loud and using profane language.
“I heard a girl say, ‘Stop,’ over and over very loud. After that, I heard a glass break,” Crowder said. “I sat there for a second and told my waitress that somebody was getting loud and violent.”
Did you tell her you were an agent, Ward asked?
“No,” Crowder said.
Crowder testified drinks were being spilled at the adjacent table and people were trying to knock each other out of the booth. He said he then spoke with the traveling manager and bartender.
Did you say you were an ABC agent, Ward asked?
“Absolutely not,” Crowder said.
Crowder said he then spoke to Kaiser and told him he was an ABC manager, but not an agent. Crowder said he was never asked for a statement when he was charged with the crime in August.
Crowder said he thought he was doing the right thing by reporting the incident.
Did you ever flash a badge, Ward asked?
“No,” Crowder said, adding that he said he owned a store and said he was an ABC manager.
Ward asked if the case was anything but confusion between the words agent and manager.
“I think that is what this is,” Crowder said.
Bradwell saw it differently.
“All witnesses are confused except for you,” Bradwell said. “Is that correct?”
“I state my story is 100 percent true,” Crowder said.
Did you state you were with ABC, Ward asked?
“Not to my knowledge,” Crowder said. “Only that I worked in ABC - a manager, not with ABC.”
Ward asked why Crowder would feel compelled to tell them that.
“I thought I was going to be in a violent confrontation to defend a female,” Crowder said. “A gentleman at the other table said he would cut her throat.”
Ward asked Crowder if he thought Kaiser would lie.
“Not on purpose,” Crowder sad.
Ward asked Crowder if he ever used the word off-duty or stated he was with ABC.
“Never,” Crowder said.
LouAnne Crowder then testified. She said she never told anyone she was an ABC agent or ABC manager. She said she spoke briefly to Kaiser as she left and told him she thought someone was in danger, that she heard broken glass and threats.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge McKinney said after listening to all the evidence, there was a glimmer of doubt still in his mind about LouAnne Crowder.
“I think the evidence is lacking to come away with she said she was an agent,” McKinney said. “I find her not guilty.”
As for Greg Crowder, McKinney said “four independent, non-interested” witnesses all stated Crowder told them he was an ABC agent or officer. He then found Greg Crowder guilty and sentenced him to a 90-day jail sentence, with 60 days suspended contingent on good behavior for 12 months. He also levied a $500 fine against Crowder.
“There was enough evidence for a finding of guilt,” he concluded.
Outside the courtroom, Mrs. Crowder said her husband would appeal the case, which is set to be heard March 10th at 9 a.m. in Bristol Circuit Court.