Update: Board rules all of the bars did what they could and should have and have taken steps to try to keep it from happening again, so no violations.
The Boston Licensing Board this week held hearings on four more possible cases involving tampered drinks given to women - one at a bar in an incident that was just a week after another possible drugging there.
The hearings, along with a series of similar hearings in recent months, follow warnings last fall by both the board and Boston Police about what seemed to be an increase in men putting drugs in the drinks of young women at local bars. The board could decide Thursday whether any of the latest incidents could have been stopped by the bars in question and, if so, whether they warrant punishment.
In the meantime, bar managers reported stepping up training for workers on how to spot possible drug use and have taken additional measures, including telling patrons to always take their drinks with them if they get up, removing drinks if patrons disregard that or putting coasters on the drinks.
The accounts below are based on testimony by police officers and bar employees and managers:
West End Johnnie's, Nov. 5
A woman who arrived with some friends went to the downstairs bar, where she had two drinks over two hours. Then the bartender gave her a free shot. Some men showed up and started dancing and buying drinks, including one for her. When a friend tried a sip, she said it tasted unusually salty.
The woman began feeling sick Around 12:40 a.m, "she stumbled outside," had to be helped to an Uber, vomited in that, did not respond to external chest rub. Was in and out of consciousness through the morning. She went to the South Bay Target and bought a home drug test kit, which indicated the presence of benzodiazapines.
The woman or a friend contacted the bar the next day, The manager immediately contacted Caron. And the bar contacted Boston Police.
Detectives arrived and watched video with the bar manager and owner John Caron, who said they couldn't spot anything that looked suspicious.
Caron said the bar was already on high alert, because of a similar incident just a week earlier - one for which the board ruled that while it sure seemed like two nurses from Holyoke were slipped something, there was nothing the bar did wrong.
"It was a busy place, we really couldn't see anything that gave us any inclination (of drink tampering)," BPD Sgt. Det. William Gallagher said.
After the second incident, Caron and the manager held an all-hands meeting with staff to urge them to be aware. "If it does happen to be one of you doing this ... you would not only lose your job, you would be prosecuted," he told them.
Sissy K's, Feb. 6
A Cambridge woman who had a few drinks at home, then went to Sissy K's on Commercial Street, where she had some more. She eturned home feeling sick and "feeling numb." She went to the Mass. General ER, where a toxicology scan showed the presence of roofies, police said. But, the woman is taking prescription Zoloft, and that can lead to false positives on tests for benzodiazepine, the bar's lawyer said.
Sissy K's was quiet that night, attorney Andrew Upton said: There were only nine people in the bar at the time, four of them staff, and video showed nothing that appeared suspicious.
Bar manager William Johnson said that as a result of warnings from police and the licensing board last fall, the bar has posted roofie warning fliers in its restrooms and that servers have been instructed to tell patrons leaving their seats to take their drinks with them. Patrons who leave their drinks unattended, he continued, will come back to find them covered with coasters - and will get free replacements if they object to that.
At night, the bar now serves drinks in plastic cups, for which patrons can request covers. During the day, the bar still uses glass cups, but patrons can request plastic ones, he said. "They've been requested quite a bit recently, and it works," he said.
Legacy Boston, Feb. 11
Four Harvard students, who had each had a drink in their Mathers House dorm, arrived at the Theater District club around 10:45 p.m., and each had a drink. Around midnight, one of the women started slurring her speech and began having trouble walking and staying alert. Two of the other students, who had sipped her drink, also started feeling ill. Around 12:30, they got in an Uber to head back to Cambridge.
Club security manager Terrence Gathers said he urged the woman to wait while he called for an ambulance, but she was conscious enough to insist "No, I want to get home" He gave her his number, so she could call him when they got back to Harvard, to let him know she was OK - he told the board he has kids the same age.
Back at Harvard, the woman was so ill, her friends called 911. An MIT ambulance took her to Mount Auburn Hospital, where an ER doctor, feeling her symptoms were "self inflicted," gave her a test that did not specifically include benzodiazapines; the results came back "inconclusive," police say.
Club owner Charles Delpidio said it was a slow night at the club, that nobody reported any problems.
Delpidio said that, in addition to ongoing training, his staff has been instructed: "If somebody puts a drink down and walk away from their drink we take their drink."
Hong Kong, Feb. 11.
Around 9 p.m., a woman arrived at the Hong Kong on Chatham Street with some friends. Around 1 a.m., they called an Uber to leave, but as they were exiting, the woman collapsed. A bouncer called 911 and an ambulance took her to Tufts, something she said she has no memory of. The ER staff didn't test her for drugs; the next day, her uncle, an EMT, gave her a test that showed the presence of opiates.
"Safety is something we take very seriously, especially with females," a manager told the board. Training material on spotting signs of possible drugging now have "asterisks with bold" around them, he said.
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