Pittsfield Bar Facing Sanctions After Crowd Disturbance
The Licensing Board told owner John Giardina that it will face restrictions following the March 15 disturbance.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A Wahconah Street bar is likely to have its hours reduced, at least temporarily, in the wake of a fracas that took place outside the establishment earlier this month.
The Licensing Board will decide on Friday what measures to impose on Johnny's Beach Club, following 90 minutes of testimony earlier this week about the March 15 incident that led to seven arrests.
Representatives for the tavern, formerly known as Pepe's, say the disturbance was caused by a crowd only partly composed of its patrons; local law enforcement told the board the situation was unacceptable.
"In my 15 years, it was one of the worst scenes I've ever had part in," said Officer Michael McHugh, one of several who appeared before the board on Monday.
Police say they arrived shortly after 1 a.m. on Saturday, March 15, in response to a call from Johnny's reporting that a fight had broken out on the premises.
"When they arrived, there was no disturbance, there was no fighting," said attorney John Barry, representing owner John Giardina, who said the reason there were so many people out in the street is that the manager on duty closed the bar and began herding patrons out following the altercation.
Responding officers said chaos erupted outside following their initial sweep of the bar. They had arrested one individual when a crowd of bar patrons began encircling them with cell phones. The situation escalated to more active confrontations as additional police from Pittsfield, Lanesborough, Dalton and the sheriff's department arrived.
"Even with all that, it was all we could do to control the crowd," said Officer David Hallas, who along with several other officers described a scene in which an unknown number of onlookers kicked, hit and threw chunks of ice at them.
"There should have been a dozen more arrests," said Sgt. Glen Decker. "But that just wasn't feasible."
"It was a total mess," agreed Officer Eliezer Garcia. "The disregard for the law was obvious."
Lt. Michael Grady told the board this was not an isolated problem, citing 45 calls from the tavern in the last 15 months, three-quarters of them between midnight and the bar's 2 a.m. closing time.
The bar has been before the board on a number of occasions throughout its history, most recently for severe incidents in 2009 and 2010.
"It was just one big powder keg waiting to explode," said Grady.
Board member Dana Doyle called the current situation at the bar "a recipe for disaster."
"I just couldn't believe that something like this could happen here," said board member Richard Stockwell, on reports of the disturbance.
"This is worse than anything I've seen," said acting Chairman Robert Quattrochi, suggesting a reduction of the bar's closing time to midnight for at least 90 days.
Giardina said that with around 70 percent of his establishment's business occurring after midnight, the restriction would prove disastrous for business.
"I know it's going to kill your business," said Quattrochi. "But you don't need that kind of business."
The board will decide on Friday the parameters of punitive action against Johnny's, including the length of a license suspension and restrictions upon late hours.
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