7venth Sun Brewery co-owner accused of battering his former girlfriend

Published August 27 2018
Updated August 28 2018

The co-owner of a local and award-winning craft beer empire has been accused of battering an ex-girlfriend.

Justin Stange, 35, who co-founded 7venth Sun Brewery in Dunedin and Seminole Heights, has been charged with misdemeanor battery. The incident has reverberated through the tight-knit Tampa Bay craft beer community. 7venth Sun Breweryís other owner, Devon Kreps, told the Tampa Bay Times she has also been abused by Stange and is seeking to sever business ties with him while keeping the popular breweries open.

"A lot of people have reached out to me in their support to me and also to (the victim)," she said. "Obviously, theyíre outraged at these allegations with good reason. The brewery community is aware of whatís happened. When this came to light we moved immediately to begin the process of removing him from the business."

Stange, reached by phone on Monday, declined to comment on the specific battery charge, or his current relationship to 7venth Sun Brewery. He said he enrolled in a therapy program "right away."

The battery charge stems from an incident that took place June 3, according to a Tampa police report. The Times is not naming the woman who filed the report, a former girlfriend, because of the nature of the allegations.

The next day, the woman went to police. The officer who took the report wrote that the woman said Stange punched her three to four times with a closed fist in the early hours of June 3. "I observed contusions under both eyes of the victim," the officer wrote.

She filed for a temporary protective injunction against Stange in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court on July 13. It is no longer in effect.

Tampa police forwarded the case to the Hillsborough State Attorneyís Office. Prosecutors investigated the incident and filed the charge on Aug. 7.

This is the account the woman gave to the Times:

The 30-year-old said she began dating Stange "on and off" in August 2017. The woman, a beer buyer, met Stange at World of Beer and had known him for three years.

On June 2, they were hanging out and drinking at the 7venth Sun Brewery location in Tampa. They headed back to his place, nearly two miles south of the brewery.

Before going to bed, they got into an argument about the status of their relationship. "Iím not allowed to date people but heís allowed to do whatever he wants," she said.

She was upset and, wanting to let out some anger, grabbed a crayon and wrote "f--- you" on the mirrors in Stangeís guest and master bathrooms. She also dumped shampoo in one of his showers.

When she was in the master bathroom, she said, Stange saw what she was doing and confronted her. The next thing the woman said she remembers was being on the bathroom floor. She said he hit her in the face and stopped when her nose began to bleed.

"It was super fast. It wasnít like a push-and-shove type argument," she said. "I was in the corner in the bathroom on the floor screaming and he was hitting me. The last hit, there was a noise and I felt the blood."

She got up and told Stange she was going to the hospital.

Instead, she said, Stange ordered her to clean the writing in both bathrooms. While she was in the guest bathroom, she said, he went to the living room to grab a cigarette from her purse. She pulled the cell phone out of her back pocket, took a selfie of her bloodied and bruised face, and sent it to three close friends.

Moments later, as Stange headed to the bedroom, she said she ran to the kitchen and escaped through the back door. A friend picked her up near N Nebraska Avenue.

After the weekend incident, the woman went to work that Monday. She said she wore sunglasses to hide the black bruises around her eyes. After work, she went to Tampa police.

"Iím trying to get him out of my life 100 percent for good," she said. "That is my end goal."

It wasnít the first time she had endured abuse at the hand of Stange, she said. Once, he threw a beer can at the back of her head, and another time, he threatened to spray her with hot sauce, she said.

"A lot of people know him in this industry. They only see his charismatic, charming, party self," she said. "They donít see what he does to people and how it is when youíre close to him."

Devon Kreps, 40, said she met Stange while they worked together at SweetWater Brewing in Atlanta in 2007. She was a production manager and he was a brewer. They left in 2009, deciding to open 7venth Sun Brewery together. They held their grand opening in 2012. In 2017 they expanded, opening an 18,000-square-foot building in Seminole Heights to accommodate increased distribution, a tasting room and event space, and a bigger barrel cellar. The brewery has won a number of national awards, including a silver medal for its La Fete saison in 2016 at the World Beer Cup.

In the beginning of their business partnership, Kreps said she dated Stange. She said Stange was abusive.

"It was emotional and physical," she said. "It took some time when we started out dating, as is typical of an abusive relationship. It usually takes a while for something like that to happen, but it never ends once it starts."

Within the last two years, Kreps said the relationship ended.

"The distance you get when itís behind you and the clarity you have, itís like youíve been mind controlled," Kreps said.

State records show that Stange has faced charges of domestic battery in the past, though he has never been convicted.

Stange was arrested in August 2006 on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence battery by the Bay County Sheriffís Office, according to court records. The charge was dropped two months later, though records do not say why.

Pinellas records show he was twice arrested in 2015, accused of assaulting the same woman in Dunedin.

In January 2015, Pinellas deputies arrested him on a charge of misdemeanor domestic battery, accused of shoving and biting a woman with whom the arrest report said he had a 3-year relationship. The state dropped the charge a month later, though court records do not say why.

Then in May 2015, Pinellas deputies arrested him on a felony charge of burglary with battery involving dating violence and a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief. The arrest report said Stange forced his way into the same womanís home, assaulted her, tore her childís school photos and smashed her iPad.

The charges were reduced to misdemeanors and dismissed in June 2016 after the state said Stange successfully completed a family violence program and alcohol counseling.

"I think mental health problems are a big topic that gets lost in the brewing industry," Stange told the Times Monday. "They donít seem to be addressed or taken seriously in the alcohol industry. And if you have outstanding problems that donít relate to alcohol, itís difficult to reach out for help."

Although Stangeís current court case is widely known in the brewery community, he is worried attention will hurt 7venth Sunís business, a concern that Kreps shares.

"What I want people to understand is that he should be punished for what he did, but itís not the business. (Boycotting 7venth Sun) hurts the victims and all the amazing people who work for the company and put their hearts and souls into it."

After the incident, Kreps sent a note to a local brewerís online group about the allegations, telling the brewers she was working on parting ways with Stange.

When Jennifer Evanchyk and Danielle OíConnor at Shuffle in Tampa Heights found out about the allegations, they were in a conundrum. At the time they had two sixtels (thatís 1/6 of a full keg of beer) of 7venth Sun in storage. They decided to donate the money from the kegs to the Spring of Tampa Bay, a domestic violence shelter and organization in Tampa.

"We looked at it as something, as women, we had to do," Evanchyk said. "It wasnít really a choice. The way we did it was matter-of-fact and we looked at it as a win-win. We consider Devon a friend and have a lot of respect for her and her brewery."

They raised $500.

"As victims ourselves, we hope that this story can help someone who may be going through what we went through ó by either giving them the courage to break out of a dangerous relationship or help their family and friends see the warning signs," Kreps said. "I plan on using my platform as a local business owner as a means of doing this as well. This is now my and 7venth Sunís primary charitable cause. Even helping just one person would be a major victory and I hope we can help so many more than that."

John Martin and Jamal Thalji contributed to this report. Contact Laura Reiley at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

 
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