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Off-duty officer requirement imposed on problem establishment


March 7, 2013
By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

EAST LONGMEADOW — In response to recent instances of violence at Pasquale's Restaurant and Club Meadows, the Board of Selectmen hosted hearings and took steps toward ensuring that both establishments would not have further issues.

Acting as the liquor license commissioners, the selectmen elected to temporarily require Pasquale's to have an off-duty police presence, while imposing no restrictions on Club Meadows, contingent upon the establishment remaining incident-free in the future.

Police Chief Douglas Mellis and Pasquale's management agreed to have an officer stationed there from 10 p.m. to closing time at 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The measure was in response to two separate incidents — a large fight on Dec. 1, 2012 during a holiday party for which Pasquale's management had already appeared before the board, and another on Jan. 25 during which Springfield Fire Lt. James Leger allegedly hit the victim in the head with a bar stool.

Selectman Peter Punderson theorized that the new 1 a.m. restrictions on bars in Springfield may be drawing an undesirable element to Pasquale's in the late-night hours and a police officer, in addition to security measures implemented by the restaurant, would send a message that the establishment was one that did not tolerate bad or irresponsible behavior.

Richard Torcia, representing his father, Michael, who owns Pasquale's, objected to the board's recommendation of a police presence, stating it would send a different message and that what he described as two isolated incidents did not merit such an action.

"It's going to send a message that we're a problem and we have been working so hard since December," he said. "Two incidents in three months is awful, but two incidents in 11 years isn't as bad. It's going to send a message that we're a troubled establishment."

He added that it was as if Pasquale's was "in receivership."

Selectman Paul Federici said that while he recognized uniformed officers as an added expense, it was a small price to pay compared to being forced to shut down their liquor service in the wake of another incident.

"It's short money to assure that we're not sitting here again taking your license away," he said.

Torcia told the board that since a December hearing regarding the first incident, his company has been putting safety measures in place.

"It's unfortunate that another incident happened so soon, but I don't want the police chief to think that we're sitting back and doing nothing, because that's not the case," he said. "This is bad publicity for us. No one is going to want to come to Pasquale's if things like this keep happening. We want to do everything we can to offer a safe place. I believe we are taking initiative and have taken initiative to do the right thing and take the right steps to make sure Pasquale's is a safe place."

Torcia said the security measures being implemented are: the installation of a 32-camera surveillance system to monitor the lounge and the restaurant; the Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS) recertification of all employees who serve alcohol, despite the fact that they were already certified; security training by a retired Massachusetts State Police officer for staff to learn and understand the proper steps to be taken in emergency situations; and the addition of security personnel, including a regular doorman at the front door as opposed to only on busy nights.

He asked the board to consider allowing Pasquale's to complete these steps and employ its own security while checking in with the board monthly.

Mellis objected, stating that it was his opinion that private security's responsibility was to make the business owners happy, whereas a police presence would be "like one-stop shopping" in which the interests of the business and the community would be kept in mind.

Sgt. Steven Manning was the first to respond to both incidents discussed at the hearing and administered first aid to the victims while other officers conducted investigation.

Officer Michael Ingalls told the board that he conducted the investigation on Dec. 1,

"There were a lot of people outside; a lot of people trying to leave the bar. A large group had congregated around where someone was injured ... There was a blood trail from where he was standing back into the bar," he said. "I went inside and as you walked into the bar, there was a large pool of blood, chairs were strewn about and there was glass on the floor."

Manning added that police spoke with Shavone Gauthier, who arrived at the restaurant after the incident and identified herself as a manager. She attempted to get the staff to cooperate with police, but there was little compliance. "The indication was they knew who it was but no one wanted to talk. There was one witness that came forward ... but they couldn't pick the person out of a lineup," Ingalls added.

Mellis reminded the board that during the December meeting regarding this occurrence, manager Joe Santaniello said he was in the basement at the time and came upstairs afterward. Manning said that no officer spoke with Santaniello that night, an assertion Santaniello verified.

"Who was there, who wasn't there, we don't know," Mellis said.

Officer Michael Sousa said that when he arrived at the establishment after the Jan. 25 incident, he took over the investigation and spoke to bartenders who said that the suspect had already left. He added that staff aided police by identifying the suspect through a photo lineup.

While a manager was on scene and cooperated, Sousa said he did not see anyone "who could be easily identified" as security personnel.

Mellis added that in both instances, there were concerns raised by the Police Department regarding the lack of food service, a requirement of the establishment's liquor license.

"There's an issue on a restaurant [versus] a bar. I believe the license is that food will be available [and] food will be served," he said. "I believe that Officer Sousa had put a comment in there that there were no dishes that were readily available or present and this is of continuing concern. If the license is for it to be run as a restaurant, then it's a restaurant; it's not a bar. This has been an ongoing problem."

Mellis added that individuals anonymously told the police that when they asked for a menu, they were told to call Peppa's Pizza who would deliver and that violations regarding food service dated back to 2008.

Torcia adamantly stated that the establishment maintains the same menu throughout all business hours.

At a separate hearing prior to the meeting with Pasquale's, Mellis addressed two recent incidents that took place at Club Meadows.

The first, he said, involved a woman who reported to the Springfield Police Department that she had been struck in the forehead by another party at a gathering that took place on Jan. 13 in the club's basement, which is often rented out for functions.

"For whatever reason, she thought she was in Springfield and had gone down to the Springfield Police Department to make this report and it was forwarded to us from there," Mellis said, adding that the investigation was ongoing, but a suspect had not been identified.

Sgt. Patrick Manley added that it was his understanding that the victim and the alleged assailant "were known to each other," though possibly not by name and any charges would most likely be for misdemeanor assault.

Mellis added, "We received no call from the club. They may not have been aware that this individual was assaulted."

The second, more serious incident occurred on Jan. 28 at approximately 3:30 p.m. when a familial argument turned violent and a man sustained a wound to his face by an assailant's concealed box cutter following a brunch after a funeral.

"No alcohol was served at that event and none of the people involved had consumed any alcohol. It got to be a family argument — families get very emotional. Two sisters were screaming at each other in the parking lot and each of their boyfriends got out and got into a confrontation," Manley said. "One of the individuals pulled out a box cutter and cut the other individual rather severely from his eye socket to around behind his ear. The individual responsible was charged and there is an open criminal case right now."

Manley added that in that incident, the Police Department received a call from Club Meadows staff and received their full cooperation upon arrival.

"When we went down to the bar, we did get cooperation and assistance in identifying who was responsible, who was responsible for getting the room, who were the players in the fight," he said. "We did get clear cooperation from the staff there. It was considerably better than the cooperation we got at the other establishment where we recently had a problem."

Mellis went on to say that Club Meadows manager Manuel Coelho scheduled a meeting with Mellis to discuss the incident, along with Manley.

"Manny [Coelho] provided me with a bill. This woman who had planned this brought in their own food. There was no alcohol that was served and I think we had a receipt for $29 worth of soda," he said. "Manny was very upset that this happened in his facility. I've had activities with Manny in the past and have always found him to be forward in events that have happened in the past."

Mellis and Manley agreed that while the second incident was the more serious of the two, it was also for the most part beyond the control of the Club Meadows staff.

"I think in some sense it was uncontrollable," Mellis said, adding that it was "not like watching someone doing shots all night" and allowing the potential for problems.

Manley did say that it was unclear as to the level of security that was on site during the earlier incident.

"During the first incident, we don't really know what they had for security. It was in the evening, it involved alcohol, music and dancing. It was more of a high-risk situation," he said.

Federici said that the board would take the Police Department's reports under advisement, but no further action would be taken provided that no further incidents take place.

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