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Salt 88 owner acquitted in tweet trial

Posted at 11:03 AM, Feb 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-08 19:20:23-05
Jurors have reached a verdict in the trial of a restaurant owner who sent a warning tweet to other restaurant owners about an undercover alcohol compliance sting.
 
A jury of 3 men and 3 women find Salt 88 owner John Horvatinovich 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 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.
 
"I feel great.  A little surprised,” Horvatinovich explained. "I think that it was an absolute waste of taxpayer money. I don't think they really took the time to look at the issues that were presented and again I think it was more of a sidebar of what the state patrol did not correctly do that night."

Prosecutors said they had to stop the compliance checks for the safety of the teens since their faces were posted on Twitter.

“That was a big issue here, who put their safety in jeopardy was it my client or was it the State Patrol?  They sent in two minors unaccompanied with officers in their vehicle circling the parking lot looking for a spot so had something gone wrong they would not have been in the area at all to step in and help out,” said Carolyn Wilson, Horvatinovich’s defense attorney.

Prosecutors say they felt they had the evidence to convict, but respect the jury's decision.

“In the system that we have the way it works is that when the state believes we have enough evidence to charge someone with a crime we charge them with a crime.  A jury, not me, not a defense attorney, but the jury decides what the facts are and if somebody’s guilty or not guilty so it doesn’t cause me any pause in my decision this is just how the system works and the system worked in this case,” said City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse.

Horvatinovich says he doesn't think that compliance checks should be eliminated.  He says the NE State Patrol should send out letters so restaurants know if they've passed, and follow the guidelines closer.