Salt owner testifies in Twiter controversy trial

Posted at 5:01 PM, Feb 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-07 18:01:17-05

Is it freedom of speech, or did the restaurant owner intentionally mess up a Nebraska State Patrol investigation?  The jury couldn't come to a unanimous decision after 2 ½ hours of deliberation Tuesday in Douglas County Court.

The jury of 3 men and 3 women will decide if Salt 88 Owner John Horvatinovich is guilty or not guilty of misdemeanor obstructing a government operation.

On August 13, he tweeted from the Salt Twitter account surveillance photos of two minors who had tried to buy alcohol at the restaurant.  The minors were hired by the Nebraska State Patrol as confidential informants.

Horvatinovich feels he has a 60% chance of being found guilty even though he says his freedom of speech rights were infringed upon.

“I don’t feel very confident, I feel confident in my testimony because I was honest. It’s emotional because this is my life,” Horvatinovich explained.

Horvatinovich told jurors that the restaurant was struggling financially when he made the tweet, and that wanted to warn other restaurant owners because their business is their livelihood.

“Public Service Announcement, a good guy kind of thing, or just being a smart business owner, call it what you want but that’s what I feel,” Horvatinovich described.

Prosecutors argued that he knew the teens were part of a compliance check by using the word “sting”, and put them in danger by informing others so they had to shut it down.

The defense argued there were multiple things that troopers could’ve done to keep the operation going, and that the law wasn’t meant to prosecute tweets.

"I don't regret the tweet because again we were under the impression they were minors and under the state training and the private training it does mention that you're supposed to let other businesses know if you know of underage people trying to purchase alcohol,” Horvatinovich concluded.

Both confidential informants are related to people employed by the Nebraska State Patrol.

The jury will reconvene Wednesday morning and continue their deliberations.