Owner Michael Kruger told the Licensing Board that his bar had nothing to do with the shooting in the parking lot. The bar was closed at the time.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — For the third time in two years, Lach's Lounge was before the Licensing Board after a violent crime.
But this time, the Licensing Board struggled to find how the bar was related to a Sept. 10 shooting in which a 32-year-old resident was shot multiple times. The incident occurred in the parking lot at about 1:20 a.m., 20 minutes after the bar had closed.
While the victim had been a patron earlier in the evening, it is not known whether the shooter was there or not. Bar officials say there was no altercation prior to the event.
"I'm having a hard time connecting Lach's to the shooter and why it is their responsibility," said Licensing Board member Dennis Powell.
But Lt. Michael Grady brought the bar before the board, not because of the shooting but because he felt it had exceeded its occupancy. Further, Grady contended, though he said it wasn't part of the complaint, an underage individual was able to drink at the bar that night.
"There are still some blind spots so I'm going to assume there are more than 82 people in the bar. I counted 82 and another officer counted 81," Grady said.
Interim General Manager Ishmael Lytle contends that in any of the photos presented, there are only 61 people and that the security staff has clickers to count the number of patrons. In the "blind spot" of the cameras, he said, is where the disc jockey was set up so not many people could have been there.
"I can't find another 22 people in that blind spot. I can't find that at all," he said.
But, the question of overcrowding got lost in the conversation on Monday afternoon. The focus became on the shooting incident that evening and what has become a trend with the establishment.
In late October 2015, a man was shot on Lincoln Street and police determined that not only was the shooter — Anthony Robertson — in the bar prior to the incident but that the bartender at the time saw it and did not tell police upon questioning. Then in January 2016, James Dominguez was shot in the parking lot outside after leaving the bar. In that incident, police accused Lach's Lounge of overserving the patrons, saying many of them were very intoxicated when they arrived.
Sgt. John Soules said the latest shooting is still under investigation but "both the victim and several of the bystanders had been inside of the bar prior to the incident." The man was shot shortly after leaving in the parking lot.
But Soules couldn't definitely say whether or not the shooter was in the bar or if there was an altercation at Lach's leading to it.
"If he is having a few drinks, that's not illegal," said Licensing Board member Richard Stockwell.
Grady, however, pointed to it being the third incident. He said he has an "obligation" to bring it to the attention of the Licensing Board when violent incidents happen there so frequently.
"This is the third shooting that has taken place surrounding the bar in the last 18 months. I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't bring it to you," Grady said.
Later adding, "I can't have violence in downtown Pittsfield."
Powell, however, said in this day of social media, everybody knows where somebody else is. He said someone could wait outside any location for their target and that isn't the fault of the establishment. To which Grady responded, "Lach's is just having an extremely run of bad luck then."
Licensing Board member Diane Pero elaborated saying there have been eight incidents in which Lach's was brought before them in as many years. She said there is a pattern of behavior at that bar that needs addressing.
Stockwell, however, said there hasn't been an issue with the bar since cameras were installed and this latest one isn't necessarily the responsibility of management. Owner Michael Kruger and Lytle asserted that is the case.
Arthur Beattie Jr. used to manage the bar but had become ill. Lytle was brought in to take over general management, and Kruger said it appears Beattie will not be returning and Lytle will take the job on a permanent basis.
Lytle said he has increased security from one person to three, ensures the patrons are wanded when entering, and runs a tight ship when it comes to closing down the bar and funneling patrons out.
"There are certain steps we have taken for security and to make the bar better," Lytle said. "Those things are happening now, they weren't happening before."
What happened on the night in question, according to Lytle, was after the bar closed, patrons continued to socialize in the municipal parking lot outside. The doors were locked, Kruger had gone home and just Lytle and a security guard were cleaning up. That is when Lytle heard more than 10 gunshots. He said he locked down the bar completely and called 911.
"I can't go over there and tell people they can't drink in the parking lot, it is not my job," Lytle said. "All we need is one [police cruiser] to swing through and all of the people will disperse."
When police asked for surveillance video, the bar complied and provided it. Lytle said being "in sync with PPD is essential" and said he wants to work with the officers.
Despite the changes, and even if the latest shooting wasn't directly related to the bar's management, Pero still questioned what needs to happen to keep the "bad element" away from there. There are plenty of other establishments in the city that don't have that type of track record, she said.
"There is a problem with your bar and it has been happening over the course of years, one after another," Pero said.
Kruger said there are bad things happening throughout the city and he doesn't know who the bad element is and isn't. He said he'd certainly be cooperative with anything the police request.
"I'm a bad judge of people. I think everybody is good," he said.
Without the direct link between the bar and the shooting, the Licensing Board opted to continue the hearing until December. The hope is that by then the police investigation will be completed, or at least, further along, to judge the bar's level of involvement.
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