PROVIDENCE — He was, he said at the time, just a 26-year-old man doing his thing.
For state Representative Enrique Sanchez, that thing in the early morning hours of April 28 was being outside an illegal after-hours establishment on Ashmont Street.
“These are my people,” Sanchez told police after they ordered everyone to leave the Ashmont Street house, according to body camera footage.
From their vantage point at his driver’s side window, Providence police took a different view.
“You hold an office,” Lieutenant Charles Vieira told Sanchez. “You shouldn’t be here. You should hold yourself to a higher standard.”
The admonishment apparently didn’t stick. One night later, police encountered the Providence Democrat at a licensed club, Ibiza Lounge, at 3 a.m., one hour after it was supposed to be closed.
The two incidents shed light on the personal activities of a young, progressive state representative who has made community interactions with police a key part of his public profile. And the Ashmont Street incident highlights an under-the-radar problem in Providence: illegal, unregulated, after-hours drinking establishments where officials say safety issues abound.
Unlike a late-night gathering of friends, illegal after-hours establishments — sometimes known as “sip joints” or “afties” — are typically seeking to make money from cover charges or selling drinks without a liquor license. They’re often in residential neighborhoods, and don’t comply with fire or safety regulations. And, at least twice since the beginning of 2022, police say people have been killed at these establishments.
In early 2022, Biniam Tsegai was killed and another man wounded during a shooting while exiting a sip joint on Elmwood Avenue, according to Providence police.
More recently, on Feb. 12, Ivan Encarnacion was found shot dead in the basement of a home at 221 Burnside St. Police said the basement was the site of an illegal sip joint.
“There’s no regulations, there’s no license, there’s really no oversight,” said Colonel Oscar Perez, the Providence police chief.
The police report from the April 28 incident says the Ashmont Street basement is a “well-known after hours drinking establishment.” In an interview, Sanchez told the Globe he went there to see longtime friends.
The police report about the incident said Sanchez “had just left the party.” In police-worn body camera footage reviewed by the Globe, which captured most but not all of his five-minute interaction with police, Sanchez didn’t deny going inside the house. But he told the Globe he decided not to go inside because police were already there when he arrived, and he saw it was crowded. He said he sat in his car reading emails instead.
Sanchez did acknowledge going to after-hours establishments in general — including since taking office in January.
“I do not want to ever leave my roots,” said Sanchez, who asks constituents to call him by his first name instead of his official state title. “This is where my community is. … They’re not in fancy ballrooms or fancy establishments.”
In police body-worn camera footage of the Ashmont Street call, obtained through a public records request, an officer jumps a fence at the property and confronts two men at the back door. The video shows officers going into the house shouting “everybody out!” as people file up the stairs from the basement.
In the report, Sergeant Peter Salmons describes officers finding about 20 people in the basement at tables with hookahs and liquor bottles, as well as a DJ playing music. He wrote that he recognized the party hosts from the other establishment on Burnside Street, where Encarnacion was murdered in February. (While the officers on scene said there was a connection between the two establishments, Perez said he could not confirm a nexus.)
Salmons wrote in the Ashmont Street report that he explained to the hosts “the dangers of running an illegal after hours establishment that was taking money for the sale of alcohol and tobacco, and the dangers of having this many individuals stuck in a basement with open fire and smoke.”
The confrontation with Sanchez begins outside about 10 minutes later at 2:35 a.m.
“You’re helping contribute to a problem,” Lieutenant Vieira tells Sanchez. “I’m disappointed in you.”
Sanchez tells the officers there are “far more atrocious” things that happen in local government.
“I’m 26, I do my thing,” Sanchez said, repeating multiple times that Perez, the police chief, “knows I do my thing.”
In an interview with the Globe, Perez denied being aware of Sanchez’s late-night activities, and said the two men didn’t speak about the Ashmont Street incident. “I’m not aware of what he was referring to,” he told the Globe.
In an email to the Globe on July 19, Sanchez said he followed the officers’ advice to leave Ashmont Street.
But one night after the scolding, Sanchez was at Ibiza Lounge, a licensed establishment on Summer Street, when police showed up at the club after noticing patrons leaving well past the 2 a.m. closing time.
Sergeant Salmons, who’d been on Ashmont Street the night before, recognized Sanchez at Ibiza. As everyone filed out of the club, Sanchez approached.
“Don’t touch me,” Salmons said, as Sanchez appeared to tap his arm.
“Can we talk?” Sanchez said.
“No,” Salmons said.
Sanchez, who has since turned 27, told the Globe he went to the club to have a constituent service meeting with the owner, who was having an issue with a local developer.
Asked why he would have a constituent meeting at 3 a.m., Sanchez said he works around the clock, and was hoping to avoid talking over loud music. He said he was unaware of the state law requiring employees to leave a half hour after closing time. (Sanchez is not an employee of the lounge.)
“There are many obscure rules and policies, and I am still learning about all these rules,” Sanchez said. “I take full responsibility for not knowing this rule.”
The club was fined $750 by the Providence Board of Licenses for the disturbance and violation of hours. Nick Hemond, an attorney for Ibiza, said his client took responsibility for the violation and will pay the fine.
Sanchez said he was not drinking alcohol on either occasion. Neither incident resulted in any criminal charges.
Perez said he was made aware of both incidents at the time and watched the videos, which were also reviewed internally by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
He defended the officers from the Ashmont Street confrontation, and said there was no discipline for that incident. But Perez said Salmons was disciplined for an “inappropriate comment” he made about Sanchez at Ibiza the next night.
Salmons, who was speaking to the manager of Ibiza about being open late, referred to Sanchez as a “sh---y ass state rep.” Sanchez wasn’t visible in the video frame at the time.
‘Sip joints’ are a safety problem, officials say
Sanchez sought to downplay the concerns about the sip joints in an interview and emailed statement to the Globe.
“I would ask people who have a negative reaction to the working class Latino social scene to consider whether it really is any different from other social scenes,” Sanchez said.
City officials, though, view sip joints as a significant concern.
“When people operate without a license, they’re threatening the health and safety of the public,” said Dylan Conley, the chair of the Providence Board of Licenses that issues liquor licenses to bars and clubs.
Licensed establishments are checked to ensure they comply with the fire codes and other safety regulations, such as emergency exits, Conley noted, and may have metal detectors or pat-down requirements to prevent weapons from being brought into the party.
None of that happens at an unlicensed club.
“I’m going to confidently project that there’s more illicit activity going on in an unlicensed sip joint than there is in a licensed establishment,” Conley said. “A bar or restaurant has a lot to lose if inappropriate activity is occurring on their premises. We’ll crack down on that instantly.”
Sip joints also might be in residential neighborhoods where they cause overcrowding and noise issues, violating city and state laws. The Ashmont Street after-hours was in the basement of a multi-family home in a residential zone.
Perez and Conley both said there’s no current way to track how many sip joints are operating in the city.
Mayor Brett Smiley’s office echoed concerns about safety inside the establishments.
“Unpermitted after-hour parties impact the local quality of life for surrounding neighborhoods and are a safety concern for those in the establishment,” spokesperson Patricia Socarras said. “That’s why it is our full expectation that Providence Police enforce the law and stop this activity where they see it happening.”
Police pointed out the safety concerns to Sanchez when they spotted him outside the Ashmont Street sip joint.
“What you’re doing in there is wrong,” Vieira said.
Sanchez replied: “How is it wrong?”
“We’re not going to debate this,” Vieira said, bringing up the homicide on Burnside Street. “You’re at a late-night three months after a person was murdered.”
Sanchez, who was a substitute teacher in Providence until December 2022, said he currently works as a case manager at an immigration nonprofit. A member of the Providence Democratic Socialists of America, he ran for the R.I. House of Representatives on a platform that included “Ethics, transparency, and holding corrupt officials accountable.”
He ousted a longtime Democratic representative, Anastasia Williams, to represent District 9 in Providence.
Before taking office he supported the “defund police” movement, posting on Twitter “No justice, no peace. F*ck the Police,” back in 2021. More recently, he’s criticized the Providence police housing unit, calling for the removal of officers in schools, and questioned whether police should enforce the 9 p.m. closing time at public basketball courts.
Outside the after-hours on Ashmont Street in April, he initially took a different tone.
“I keep on supporting the Providence police department,” he said. “Always, always.”
But as the discussion wore on, things changed.
“You guys are being investigated by the FBI,” Sanchez said, referencing a probe into alleged drug ring leader Josh Perez, the nephew of both the police chief and Detective Andres Perez.
“Who’s being investigated by the FBI?” Vieira asked with some incredulity in his voice.
“The colonel that you were talking so highly of?” Salmons chimed in.
In an emailed statement, Sanchez said that “while I stand by the factual substance of those comments, it probably wasn’t the best decision to mention it. "
Sanchez said while he won’t apologize for what he called an effort to stay connected to his community, he will stop going to illegal after-hours clubs while he serves as a state representative.
But he won’t try to help shut them down.
“That is not a priority of mine,” Sanchez said.