PROVIDENCE — Ballard’s Beach Resort, which on Monday had its liquor and entertainment licenses suspended for two weeks after brawls broke out there during a music festival and on the Block Island Ferry Aug. 8, won their appeal with the state Wednesday and will be allowed to serve alcohol again immediately.
Lawyers for Ballard’s owner, Steve Filippi, appealed to the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation during an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon, where they told state officials that the two-week suspension would be “a death penalty” that would cause Ballard’s “irreparable harm.”
The popular inn, restaurant, and bar on Block Island is facing backlash after the Aug. 8 incidents. Town records show that there have been more than four dozen calls to the police and fire departments regarding intoxication and rowdiness at the venue since May 1.
“While this process plays out, the DBR this afternoon stayed the suspension of our liquor license, allowing Ballard’s to reopen immediately with a full food and bar menu,” Ballard’s spokeswoman, Kimberly Poland, told the Globe in a statement Wednesday. “We take pride in being a member of the Block Island community and the safety of both our guests and our neighbors is paramount.”
“We can assure you, Ballard’s is taking the Town Council’s concerns very seriously and we look forward to working with council members, our fellow Islanders, and the DBR to resolve this matter,” said Poland.
In a decision notice to Ballard’s, the Department of Business Regulation questioned if the town’s 14-day suspension was “appropriate.”
For six hours during a show-cause hearing on Monday evening, the five members of the New Shoreham Town Council, who also act as the Board of License Commissioners, heard statements from lawyers, testimony from witnesses, and cross examination, and watched video footage before unanimously approving a motion to suspend Ballard’s liquor and entertainment licenses for 14 days beginning at midnight Tuesday.
There was testimony by both patrons and police officers alleging that “masses” of people jumped over fences and entered Ballard’s property on Aug. 8 without having their IDs checked or their bags searched. That night, Ballard’s ended the festival an hour early, at 6 p.m., by cutting off the music and closing the bars. The town’s legal team said that caused a “mass exodus” of attendees from the venue to the nearby ferry docks.
Witnesses said people waiting in line for the ferry were arguing, littering, and cutting the line. The situation at the docks that night was described by the town’s former police captain as “chaotic.”
Board members did not go into an executive session during the show-cause hearing, and there was little discussion among them before they voted unanimously to suspend Ballard’s licenses. Ballard’s legal counsel alleged the council members had a pre-determined ruling prior to Monday’s hearing.
The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation’s decision to support Ballard’s appeal, noted that the crowds and their conduct were not clearly linked to Ballard’s.
“Some of the issues about crowd control seem to relate more to the entertainment than liquor licensing,” read the decision, which was signed by hearing officer Catherine R. Warren. “It is unclear whether those incidences at the ferry can directly or indirectly be inferred to have been caused by conduct inside [Ballard’s]. Nor is it clear that those incidences are a breach of conditions (e.g. security) of a liquor licensee.”
New Shoreham Town Manager Maryanne Crawford could not be immediately reached for comment. Town Solicitors Nicholas A. Solitro of Robert E. Craven & Associates in North Kingstown and James Callaghan of Callaghan & Callaghan in North Kingstown did not return calls to the Globe on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, five of the people arrested following the brawls on board the ferries leaving Ballard’s were arraigned in court.
Trent Manning, 32, of Providence and Abdou Njie, 37, of Pawtucket, and Daevon Silva, 20, of Pawtucket, were charged with disorderly conduct. Chevron R. Towns, 20, of Providence faced a weapons charge and Cassandra Laurie, 30, of Providence was charged with obstructing police. The fights took place while the ferry was heading back to the mainland, police said. Each were released on personal recognizance Wednesday.
The incidents of Aug. 8 are considered Ballard’s first offense but the town’s records show that the resort had a previous show-cause hearing that resulted in action against their licenses in 2004. Ballard’s was the subject of 29 noise complaints from May 15, 2004, to July 19, 2004, including 10 complaints on July 19, 2004, alone, according to town records. The Town Council approved sanctions on Ballard’s during a show-cause hearing on July 28, 2004, including suspending their liquor license for 24 hours in early August 2004, and their outdoor entertainment license from midnight on Aug. 6 through midnight on Aug. 12. But the day before the suspensions were to begin, Ballard’s filed a complaint in the Superior Court for Washington County, seeking a temporary restraining order from the decision.
The town and Ballard’s reached a settlement agreement at the time, according to records, which dismissed the complaints and legally wiped out any record of Ballard’s facing action on their licenses by the town.
This story has been updated with information from the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation’s decision order.
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz. Carlos Muñoz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ReadCarlos and on Instagram @Carlosbrknews.