Salt 88 owner plans to fight misdemeanor charge

Posted at 2:29 PM, Oct 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-12 19:58:15-04

It’s a follow up to a story we broke here at KMTV Action 3 News, an upscale restaurant owner facing a likely fine for a Tweet about an undercover alcohol check in August. 

PREVIOUS STORY:  Restaurant warns of alcohol compliance check

John Horvatinovich Tweeted a picture of minors trying to buy alcohol at his restaurant, Salt 88, while they were conducting a compliance check.
He’s charged with a crime that could carry with it a $1,000 fine and as much as a year in jail. 
Omaha’s city prosecutor, Matt Kuhse, says part of the reason charges are filed is because
Charges were filed in part because putting minors in the public eye puts them in danger, said Matt Kuhse, Omaha city prosecutor. 
"Maybe there was some good that came out of it from this individual's perspective,” Kuhse said. “From a law enforcement and prosecution perspective, I don't think any good came out of it. I think some harm was done." 
Horvatinovich pleaded not guilty Wednesday to obstructing a government operation.
Horvatinovich told KMTV in August the Wweet was meant to warn other restaurants and shed light on what he says is law enforcement that works against businesses, not for them. 
"We want to be a partner with the community and make sure that underage drinking is not happening,” Horvatinovich said. “However, I believe that the different agencies, whether it's the State Patrol or the Omaha Police Department, should follow the guidelines that are set in front of them and be more of a partner."
Part of the reason law enforcement doesn’t work with restaurants during compliance checks is to keep them random, said Diane Riibe with Project Extra Mile, the group that coordinate compliance checks in the Omaha metro.
“The safety of the minors in these undercover operations in paramount,” Riibe said. “Tweeting pictures of them while they work can put them in danger.”
Horvatinovich says law enforcement could at least let restaurants know after compliance checks when they’re successful.
"If the agencies were more respectable about our time, introduce themselves after the operation, actually send the letters that they're highly recommended to do, it would be a different situation." Horvatinovich said. 
While Horvatinovich's lawyer says a First Amendment argument is considered as part of the defense, Kuhse doesn't see it that way.
"There is no absolute right to the First Amendment,” Kuhse said. “People have heard the statement, 'you can't yell 'fire' in a public theater.' You can't threaten somebody with your own words. Things like that can constitute crimes as well. It's the actions that these words generate are what's the basis for the criminal action." 
Horvatinovich's lawyer says she doesn't know enough about the case, yet, to comment on camera. 
A pretrial hearing is scheduled for December.