The popular Block Island hostel, restaurant and bar are facing a backlash after a fight at a free and crowded reggae music festival on August 8 led to arrests at the venue and later on the Block Island Ferry.
Filippi did not attend the virtual hearing. Brian LaPlante of LaPlante Sowa Goldman in Cranston, who said he has represented Ballard’s for the past decade, told state officials on Tuesday that the two-week suspension was “a death sentence” that would cause irreparable harm to Ballard.
LaPlante noted that most of Ballard’s more than 100 employees hold H-2B visas, which allows US employers to bring in non-nationals for temporary work.
“This two-week penalty after more than a decade of no violations would force these employees to scramble and find work during this difficult time because it’s the end of the season,” LaPlante said. “They will be locked out of making money forever. It will be lost forever.”
Nicholas A. Solitro of Robert E. Craven & Associates of North Kingstown, which represents New Shoreham, said there were ‘masses’ of people jumping over fences and entering Ballard’s property on August 8 without have their identity checked or their bags searched. Ballard’s ended the music festival an hour earlier, at 6 p.m., by cutting the music and closing the bars, which Solitro said caused a “mass exodus” of attendees from the venue to the ferry docks in proximity. The situation at the docks that night was described by the city’s former police captain as “chaotic”.
LaPlante said council members Monday night were “misguided” in suggesting Filippi was responsible for the lines his customers formed on the ferry after leaving Ballard’s property. He said there was a misdemeanor arrest on Ballard’s property, but said other issues arose on the ferry, which is owned by Interstate Navigation.
Solitro acknowledged that although it was Ballard’s first official offense in more than 15 years, he said the event had gotten “out of control” and dangerous for police, ferry workers and attendees.
“It was a very dangerous situation. We just can’t have it again,” Solitro said. “As far as safety versus economy is concerned [issues]I’m always on the side of public safety.
For six hours on Monday evening, the five members of the New Shoreham City Council, who also act as licensing board commissioners, heard statements from attorneys, testified and cross-examined, and watched video footage before unanimously approving a motion to suspend Ballard’s liquor and entertainment licenses for 14 days beginning at midnight Tuesday. The suspension would prohibit Ballard’s from hosting entertainment or serving alcohol over Labor Day weekend, one of the busiest times of the year.
“We anticipated City Council’s obviously pre-scripted decision read aloud, and not even discussed by the Board of Licensing Commissioners, after nearly five hours of live testimony at [Monday night’s] show cause hearing,” Ballard spokeswoman Kimberly Poland told The Globe in a statement on Tuesday. “Ballard’s will immediately appeal the baseless decision to the Department of Business Regulation and the Superior Court of Rhode Island.” She added that Filippi and company had no further comment at this time.
In the appeal filed with the state, Filippi’s attorneys called the city’s case a “witch hunt.”
It’s not the first time Ballard’s has been the subject of rowdy and drunkenness complaints at the venue this year: there have been 49 calls to the police or fire department over disorderly conduct, noise and other problems on the site since May 1st.
The board members did not participate in an executive session during the show cause hearing, and there was little discussion among them before voting unanimously to suspend Ballard’s licenses. LaPlante alleged council members had a predetermined decision ahead of Monday’s hearing. After Monday evening’s hearing, Filippi and his lawyers declined to comment to The Globe, although James Callaghan of Callaghan & Callaghan in North Kingstown, who also represents New Shoreham, said he expected Filippi and his team “do something very soon”.
Filippi’s lawyers are expected to file a lawsuit in Superior Court, but had not done so as of 3 p.m.
Although the license violations discussed at Monday’s show cause hearing are considered the entertainment venue’s first violation, city records show that Ballard’s has already had a show cause hearing that resulted in an action against their licenses in 2004. Ballard’s had 29 noise complaints. from May 15, 2004 to July 19, 2004, including 10 complaints on July 19, 2004 alone, according to municipal records. City Council approved penalties against Ballard’s at a show cause hearing on July 28, 2004, including suspending their liquor license for 24 hours in early August 2004 and their Midnight Outdoor Entertainment License August 6 to midnight August 12. But the day before the suspensions began, Ballard’s filed a lawsuit in Washington County Superior Court, seeking a temporary restraining order from the decision.
The city and Ballard reached a settlement agreement at the time, records show, which dismissed the complaints and legally expunged any record of Ballard’s action on their licenses by the city.
Read the appellant’s urgent stay motion and Ballard’s objection to the stay motion below:
This article has been updated with the report from the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation emergency meeting and a description of the scene at Ballard’s on Tuesday afternoon.
Alexa Gagosz can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz. Carlos Muñoz can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ReadCarlos and on Instagram @Carlosbrknews.