Huron's El Cuervo bar hosted teen nights before alleged rapes of girlsCity's "dance hall" ordinance provided loophole for under-aged patrons; Huron police had not been conducting alcohol compliance checks.
By: KRISTI EATON, The Associated Press
HURON (AP) — The shots of alcohol and mixed drinks began flowing in the early morning hours. Three friends — two 14-year-olds and a 12-year-old — were supposed to be babysitting over a Saturday night. Instead, police say, they met up with a bar owner, who drove them to his closed tavern and began pouring them drinks — vodka shots, orange juice and vodka, vodka and coke and energy drinks.
Two of the girls say they got sick, and all three say they either passed out or fell asleep at the bar.
That's when, according to prosecutors, 34-year-old Werner Fajardo raped each of them. Fajardo, who owns and operates a bar in the South Dakota city of Huron, was charged with six counts of rape and three counts of giving alcohol to minors. He was released after posting a $10,000 cash bond.
A week later, the Huron Police Department conducted its first-ever alcohol compliance check of the El Cuervo bar. When police discovered 11 minors inside, Fajardo was arrested a second time and charged with violating beverage laws, five counts of furnishing alcohol to a minor and allowing people under the age of 21 on the premises.
Fajardo, who has not publicly discussed the cases, pleaded not guilty to all the charges during an arraignment on Dec. 20 and requested jury trials in both cases. He is being held on $150,000 bond. Fajardo's lawyer has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
City leaders have scheduled a public hearing Friday to consider whether to recommend that the state Department of Revenue revoke or suspend Fajardo's liquor license.
El Cuervo, located on the first floor of a two-story building along one of Huron's main streets, regularly posts signs promoting a teen night, said Sheila Moore, manager of Homecare Services, an independent living agency next door.
"I questioned how they were able to have teen night in a bar," she said. "We saw teenagers go in and out."
According to police, Fajardo exploited an outdated ordinance that allowed 18- to 21-year-olds in an establishment serving alcohol if it was designated as a dance hall. City records show Fajardo applied for the dance hall license in June 2010, and it took effect two months later. The ordinance was repealed soon after, but El Cuervo apparently still welcomed minors.
It was through the teen nights that Fajardo met the girls, said Michael R. Moore, Beadle County's state's attorney.
Police said until Fajardo's arrest they had no knowledge of underage drinking or any other crimes at the bar, said Sgt. Brandon Neitzert, spokesman for the Huron Police Department. He said police have not regularly conducted alcohol compliance checks at bars around town for years.
"Obviously we were missing some things. Whether or not it could have been caught with compliance checks at El Cuervo, we'll never know," he said, adding that the department is planning to increase police presence at bars.
There's no sign marking El Cuervo anymore — neighbors say someone took it down in the middle of the night a few weeks ago — and the building is locked, but remnants of the bar and club remain. An unlit neon Bud Light sign hangs inside the window, while a faded red canopy with yellow stenciled letters advertising "bar," 'Latino" and "baile" — the Spanish word for dance — remains in front of the red-brick building. Police say it was the only establishment licensed as a dance hall in Huron, a town of about 13,000 people 120 miles northwest of Sioux Falls
Sheila Moore, who is not related to the state's attorney, wasn't working when the bar was open during the weekends, but said she often saw the leftover signs of raucous times — broken glass, blood on the bar's windows and beer bottles — when she arrived to work on Mondays.
Fajardo, who authorities say lives in Sioux Falls and traveled to Huron on the weekends to run the bar, is charged with first-degree and third-degree rape for the alleged attack on the 12-year-old girl, and counts of third-degree rape and fourth-degree rape for each of the alleged attacks on the 14-year-old girls. If convicted of first-degree rape, he could be sentenced to up to life in prison.
According to court documents, after drinking several mixed drinks and vodka shots, the three girls passed out or became so groggy, they felt as if they couldn't move. Fajardo allegedly touched one of the girls' genitals. A second woke up and found Fajardo pulling up her underwear and pants and saw a condom wrapper on the table next to her, authorities say. The 12-year-old told police she awoke with memories of Fajardo having sex with her.
That was Oct. 30. It wasn't until one of the 14-year-olds told her parents on Nov. 11 about the alleged rape that authorities began to uncover allegations of underage drinking and sexual assaults at El Cuervo. Police questioned the girl's friends as potential witnesses — and heard two of them say they had been assaulted the same night, according to Moore, the prosecutor.
"They all told a similar story of what happened that night — that they drank this alcohol and then passed out. They all had similar memories of what happened, but none of them were able to say what happened to the other person," he said.
The girls were examined by Child's Voice, a Sioux Falls organization that conducts examinations and interviews of children in such cases. Investigators are still trying to determine if the girls had been drugged, but Moore, the state's attorney, said too much time had passed for physical evidence.
Fajardo is also charged with sexual contact with a person incapable of consenting and sexual exploitation of a minor for two alleged incidents in September involving different victims that were uncovered after the original three girls spoke with police.
His trial on the six rape charges, various sexual assault charges and furnishing alcohol to minors is set for March 28. He will be tried on the beverage law violation on Feb. 23.
"It's not good. I have two daughters. I'm really offended," said Jim Brockhoft, the owner of an audio and video store across the street from the building that houses El Cuervo.
Other neighbors say they had heard talk that illegal activity was taking place at El Cuervo but didn't have proof.
"I've heard rumors there were minors," said Sue Harrington, who works at a bar across the street from El Cuervo. But, she added, "you hear rumors all the time."