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Oregon bar butts heads with health department administrator, subject of multiple noise complaints

Sledgehammer's owners Melissa and Jason Stombaugh.
Sledgehammer's owners Melissa and Jason Stombaugh.

OREGON – Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle disputed claims by Sledgehammer’s owner Jason Stombaugh that health department Administrator Kyle Auman “raided” his bar and “physically assaulted” him during an inspection July 17.

Stombaugh leveled the allegations Friday on Facebook.

Auman was at Sledgehammer’s, 1450 state Route 2, around 10 p.m. doing an inspection, and deputies responded after Auman tried to provide guidance that Stombaugh refused, VanVickle said.

The health department then sent closure orders that “weren’t well-received” when Auman returned with deputies.

“[Stombaugh] reported there was a physical altercation prior to when we arrived,” VanVickle said. “They said they had video of it. There was no video evidence that any physical altercation occurred.”

A report that was a “general overview” of the situation was sent to Ogle County State’s Attorney Eric Morrow, VanVickle said.

“We were there to keep everyone safe,” VanVickle said. “Kyle did what the health department was required to do.”

Auman declined to comment on Tuesday, saying it was a “pending legal situation.”

Stombaugh and his wife and co-owner, Melissa Stombaugh, said Wednesday that when Auman arrived he said he was there to shut Sledgehammer’s down, before “shoulder-checking” Jason with “intentional and extreme force.”

Many staff members and patrons witnessed the incident and offered to give statements, the couple said.

Statements were not taken that night, but deputies called later and asked for a list of witness contacts, none of whom have been called, the Stombaughs said.

Jason Stombaugh said he refused to allow Auman back onto the property without a deputy because of the alleged assault. He also said he was denied the right to press charges against Auman.

“They told us because of his position, we couldn’t,” Stombaugh said.

According to the Stombaughs, Auman has been “aggressive” with Jason for the past few years, citing a past incident in which he “slammed his fist down” and “got in [Stombaugh’s] face” at a council meeting the bar owner attended for well and septic issues.

“This guy has been at my throat for two years, and it’s been constant,” Stombaugh said. “He holds me to an extreme standard, and we’ve gone above and beyond. I’ve been inspected for my kitchen four times this year when it only requires two.”

Technically, Sledgehammer’s has been open illegally since July 17, when Auman issued the closure order for what the Stombaughs said was a kitchen issue.

Their attorney has advised them to stay open, they said, adding that they reached out to the county for guidance on the matter, but haven’t heard back.

The bar has been open only on weekends in recent weeks because of the pandemic, and they spend weekdays cleaning, Melissa Stombaugh said.

In addition, the Ogle County Board plans to vote on a county noise ordinance at next month’s meeting after multiple complaints were made against the bar since it reopened May 29.

“The current county noise ordinance only deals with barking dogs,” VanVickle said. “It’s loud and vulgar music. People can’t enjoy their property. I have an issue with that. And it’s not just in that area. We’re getting complaints from across the river.”

Without a noise ordinance, though, there isn’t much the Sheriff’s Office can do besides take the complaints, advise Sledgehammer’s of them and put them on file.

VanVickle said the focus of his office is to get a permanent solution.

“The conversations have been, we advise them of the complaint and then we leave and continue to get them,” VanVickle said. “The music is extremely loud. It’s not right.

“I was 1,300 feet away from it the other day and I don’t think you could have a normal conversation even at that distance.”

The Stombaughs say that they’ve been trying to be compliant by cutting bands off at 10 p.m. and abiding by “state ordinance rules.”

“Actually having a noise ordinance in place would help us more than it would hurt us,” Jason Stombaugh said. “This is a commercially zoned property. We have different standards. It would allow us to continue to operate without the consistent harassment.”

Deputies have been to the bar about complaints on most, if not every day of every weekend since they’ve reopened, he said.

Sheriff’s vehicles also sit near the bar on state Route 2, deterring customers, Melissa Stombaugh said.

“I believe we’ve lost revenue due to that,” she said.

“It’s stressful for people to see the cops. We always have Ogle County on one end and Oregon Police on the other. That’s a deterrent for business.”

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