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Video purports to show sheriff's personnel at Hollywood bar party; department denies report

The LA Times logo The LA Times 5 days ago James Queally
a group of people standing in front of a store: Bottles hang from a rotating delivery mechanism over the bar at Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times) © (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times) Bottles hang from a rotating delivery mechanism over the bar at Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Questions have arisen about a private party that may have been thrown for Los Angeles County sheriff's personnel Friday night at a Hollywood bar, even as the number of people sickened and killed by the coronavirus in the county continues to surge.

Footage posted to social media Friday night by Knock.LA, which is affiliated with the progressive activist group Ground Game LA, shows several men respond "yeah" when asked if they had arrived at Sassafras Saloon on Vine Street for an "LASD party." In a second video, loud music can be heard blaring from inside the venue.

A person with knowledge of the event, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said staff members of the bar had been notified that a party involving the L.A. County Sheriff's Department had been booked for Friday night. About 100 people were expected to attend, according to that person.

In a statement Saturday, the sheriff's department denied that the people in the video were employees or that it hosted the event.

"As soon as we became aware of allegations of deputies attending a party in violation of health orders, we initiated an inquiry in an attempt to validate the information or misinformation," the statement read. "If further details are discovered and action is warranted, we will take appropriate administrative action."

A review of payroll records by The Times did not turn up the names of any of the three men who identify themselves in the video as Sheriff’s Department employees.

KCRW reporter Cerise Castle tweeted Friday night that she went to the scene and observed "deputies drinking on the street, littering" and not wearing masks.

The 1933 Group — which owns a number of popular Los Angeles cocktail bars, including Sassafras, Idle Hour in North Hollywood, the Bigfoot Lodge in Atwater Village and the Highland Park Bowl — issued a statement Saturday sent to The Times by email that the "gathering was booked by an individual who wanted to honor a group of first responders.

"As the LASD also confirms, it was not an event planned by the LA County Sheriff's Department, and we cannot confirm whether LASD or LAPD were among those present," the statement said. It also said that 100 people did not attend the event but declined to say how many did.

The statement noted that the 1933 Group had conducted an internal investigation and did not believe that a member of its staff provided any information to the Times. "These claims were submitted by an anonymous person not affiliated with our company," it said.

Addressing how one video posted by Ground Game LA, appears to show people dancing in close quarters to loud music inside the bar, the restaurant's owner said "we did everything possible to provide our staff and guests with ample outdoor spaces that completely adhered to current safety precautions and social distancing expectations.

"Unfortunately, there were a number of guests that did not comply. We unequivocally do not condone this behavior and have no intention of agreeing to additional private events, charitable or otherwise, until the state allows."

Bars in L.A. County were ordered shuttered by Gov. Gavin Newsom in late June as part of an effort to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has claimed more than 4,600 lives in L.A. County. Brewpubs and bars that serve food are allowed to operate and serve customers in outside dining areas.

Though Sassafras does not have a food menu posted on its website, the bar does serve food and told Eater the event Friday night was staged primarily in outdoor spaces that "completely complied with current safety precautions and social distancing expectations."

One of the videos posted by Knock.LA, however, appears to show people dancing in close quarters to loud music inside the bar.

Activists have also expressed concern about documents showing the Los Angeles Sanitation Department conducted a cleanup of a homeless encampment 24 hours before at an address next door to the Sassafras on the 1200 block of Vine Street.

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

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