NEW SHOREHAM — After nearly six hours of testimony, cross examination, and video footage, the New Shoreham Board of License Commissioners on Monday unanimously approved a motion to suspend Ballard’s Beach Resort’s liquor and entertainment licenses for 14 days beginning at midnight Tuesday.
The penalty will be in effect over Labor Day Weekend.
“There have got to be ways to not let something like this happen again,” said Councilwoman Martha Ball at the end of the show-cause hearing, which was intended to justify maintaining or stripping the entertainment venue’s licenses. “I don’t want us to get in a place where we are here next year.”
The popular inn, restaurant, and bar on Block Island is facing backlash after a brawl at a crowded reggae music festival on Aug. 8 led to arrests at the venue and later on the Block Island Ferry. But this isn’t the first time that Ballard’s has faced complaints about rowdiness and intoxication at the venue. There have been 49 calls to police or fire service because of disorderly conduct, noise, and other issues at the venue since May 1.
When asked after the hearing whether they would file a temporary restraining order against the council’s decision, Ballard’s owner, Steven Filippi, and his lawyers declined to comment. James Callaghan of Callaghan & Callaghan in North Kingstown, who represents New Shoreham, said he expects Filippi and his team “to do something very soon.”
The show-cause hearing began at 5 p.m. with a move by the entertainment venue’s lawyer, Brian LaPlante of LaPlante Sowa Goldman in Cranston, to derail the hearing entirely.
“The commissioners have actively solicited against Ballard’s, made statements adverse to Ballard’s, and have displayed your prejudgement against my client,” said LaPlante in front of more than 100 people at the New Shoreham Town Hall and more than 600 who were watching the livestream.
LaPlante claimed that the Board of License Commissioners, which is made up of all five of the New Shoreham Town Council members, had made biased comments about Ballard’s at an Aug. 11 Town Council meeting, where members of the public spoke out against the popular resort’s recent incidents. LaPlante also claimed Filippi never received notice of the Aug. 11 meeting, and accused Town Council members of instructing the public on how they could “make a case” for or against Ballard’s.
But the hearing moved forward, and Peter Chabot, the former interim police chief of Block Island, was called as the town’s first witness.
Chabot, who is a captain for the Rhode Island State Police, said when he arrived at Ballard’s on Aug. 8, he observed “several groups of individuals that were yelling at each other” and people were hopping the fence to get into the venue for a free reggae music festival scheduled from noon to 7 p.m. that day.
By the time Ballard’s ended the festival — at 6 p.m., an hour early — Chabot said there were “over 3,000″ people leaving Ballard’s to get on the Block Island Ferry. He described the crowd as “Hot, tired, frustrated.” As they waited to board the ferries, which quickly reached capacity, he said the crowd was “Extremely chaotic. Tumultuous. There were several verbal altercations.”
LaPlante cross-examined Chabot for more than an hour, asking him whether the events of Aug. 8 were “jumbled up in his head” and asking detailed questions about the ferry system to and from the island. Callaghan objected several times during the cross-examination.
Three-and-a-half hours after the show-cause hearing began, LaPlante called on Filippi to testify.
In preparation for the Aug. 8 reggae festival, Filippi said he spoke to his head of security, Vin Carlone, who was previously New Shoreham’s chief of police. “He wasn’t worried about it. I felt the same way,” said Filippi. Filippi also said he spoke to Chabot that weekend, and that Chabot suggested Ballard’s bring on more security, and allow people to enter the venue slowly, so security could check IDs and inspect their bags.
“I said OK. We’ll check them in. And we’ll check them in slowly,” said Filippi. “That’s why people started going over the fence. Because we were doing it so slowly.”
Filippi also said that festival goers received a wristband to show that they were 21 or older. By 2:15 p.m., there were so many people at Ballard’s that people were only allowed in if an equal number of people left.
“It was not out of control,” said Filippi, adding that describing the event as “out of control” was “unfair.”
“It’s a shame that 25 seconds ruined an entire day,” he said, referring to a video of people fighting during the event. “Hopefully it never happens again.”
Filippi said he spent $25,000 to $30,000 on the reggae festival this year, which had free admission as an incentive for people to attend. But “It’s done, it’s dead,” Filippi said of the reggae festival. “And everyone needs to know that.”
Adam Mancini, of Stonington, Conn., testified that he attended the reggae fest with about seven other people. They rented a cabana at Ballard’s, but when they decided to leave, they encountered a group of people in the middle of a fight.
Mancini said he had been to Ballard’s before and had enjoyed it. But after the Aug. 8 event, “I am not interested in going back,” he said.
Christine “Nikki” Newman testified in support of Ballard’s, saying that despite the many reports of over-crowding and tension at the venue, she thought there was “nothing overcrowded about it.”
“There was never anyone overly drunk. There were not a lot of drunk people there,” she said. Newman said she thought the real problem was due to the ferry. When cross-examined, she said she did not witness any fights, disputes, or altercations but saw one incident of a girl who allegedly had an anxiety attack. Then, she admitted that she knew both Filippi and Carlone, the head of security at Ballard’s.
“I guess I’m pro-Ballard’s. I’m pro-Block Island,” she said.
State Trooper Damien Maddox, who has been stationed on Block Island for the last several summers, described encountering a group waiting in line to get into the resort while carrying expensive liquor, and saw a “rush of people” — approximately 100 — going over the fence to enter without their bags being searched or getting their IDs checked.
A video taken from social media was presented by the town that showed a woman carrying a beach chair, walking over the fence to Ballard’s right behind State Trooper Arnaldo De Lacerda Dju. The trooper said he was the only person guarding the fence. De Lacerda Dju described having to address several altercations around the Ballard’s property and the Block Island Ferry dock, which is just steps away from the resort.
Robert Barroll, who works for the Block Island Express ferry to and from New London, Conn., said he watched customers leave Ballard’s with drinks in hand. He said the majority of the people were wearing wristbands, had reggae T-shirts from Ballard’s, and were dropping the containers from the “massive frozen drinks” that “only Ballard’s sells.”
“Once they were done with [their drinks] they’d drop them on the concrete,” he said. “Every 20 minutes or so we’d walk the line and pick up trash on the ground. I began bringing a trash can around and having people give their trash to me.
“I had never done that before,” said Barroll.
Filippi said no one from the town ordered him to cancel the event, that he does not have control over the ferries that bring Ballard’s customers back to the mainland, nor does he control police on how and when they make arrests.
“It’s a shame that 10 people ... Mess it up for everyone,” Filippi said. “You try to host a free festival ... You try to do the right thing.”
Town Solicitor James Callaghan said Ballard’s had both violated the terms of its liquor and entertainment licenses and presented a danger to the public.
In his closing arguments, LaPlante insisted that despite nearly six hours of testimony, video footage, and cross-examination, there was “no evidence” that Ballard’s over-served alcohol or served those who were underage that day.
The members of the Board of License Commissioners disagreed, voting unanimously to suspend the resort’s license for 14 days.
This story has been updated to include additional information about the penalty faced by the resort.
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