Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Clayton County police Detective Randy Brashears fills out paperwork after one of the underage alcohol sales Friday night. To the right is the bottle of wine sold to an 18-year-old police decoy.
By Kathy Jefcoats
RIVERDALE — The young lady emerged from a convenience store Friday night, holding a black plastic bag filled with alcoholic drinks.
It could be the start of an innocent way to shake off a hectic work week but not this night. The customer is 18 and a decoy used by Clayton County police to test the integrity of store clerks. The ones who failed were issued the types of certificates they aren't likely to post near cash registers.
The owner of an Exxon store on Riverdale Road seemed confused when Detective Randy Brashears and Officer Eugene Littles told her she was being cited for several violations.
"You're being cited for underage alcohol sales, for not having the county code signs posted and for having a beer sign in your window that is viewed from the street," said Brashears.
Shailina Amin Punjani, 33, of Stockbridge said she and her husband just bought the store and she was unfamiliar with the regulations. According to Clayton County court records, Punjani was arrested in 2010 for commercial gambling violations. She was acquitted of the charges in 2011.
The decoy told police Punjani didn't ask for her identification at the time of purchase. Punjani said she was having a bad day.
"I've been very nervous all day, I cut my hand and I didn't even want to come in to the store today," she said. "But my husband asked me to come in so he could stock the cooler. I was just so nervous all day."
When pressed about not asking for ID for an alcohol sale, Punjani just shrugged her shoulders.
"All day long, I check for cigarette sales," she said. "This time, I don't know."
Officer Phong Nguyen told her she could be taken into custody instead of getting citations.
"You could be going to jail right now," he said. "We're cutting you a break."
The underage alcohol buys were one prong of Operation No Boundaries, a multi-jurisdictional affront conducted last week against crime in Clayton County, said Lt. Marc Richards. Assisting Clayton County police were Georgia State Patrol, Clayton and Fayette sheriffs' offices, and police departments in Forest Park, Lovejoy, Jonesboro, Morrow, Riverdale, College Park, East Point, Sandy Springs and Hapeville, and DeKalb, Fulton and Henry counties.
"Everyone is working together this weekend," he said. "We want to increase police presence throughout the entire county by partnering with neighboring jurisdictions in heightened law enforcement efforts against criminal activity, loitering, traffic-related violence and to gain valuable information concerning such criminal activity."
Other officers focused on road safety checks, warrant round-ups and interstate interdiction targeting speeding and aggressive drivers.
Three teams took an underage decoy to stores around the county. Of the half dozen stores visited by Nguyen's team, only one clerk refused to sell to the decoy after checking her ID. The decoy, who cannot be identified because of the nature of the undercover operation, said she thinks clerks are greedy.
"Just to know how people are eager to get the money without realizing how they're harming teenagers," she said. "Teenagers allowed to buy alcohol could die in a DUI crash or kill someone. You just never know what could happen."
She has worked as a decoy before but her first ventures were nerve-wracking, she said.
"I was just shaking," she said. "You never know what can happen inside some of these places. Someone could come in and rob the place."
But she said she enjoys knowing that she is doing her part to deter criminal activity.
"What I'm doing could prevent them from selling to minors," she said. "We're keeping young people away from people like that."