PITTSFIELD — The city has shuttered a downtown bar for seven days and curtailed its hours for two months in the wake of a patron being shot to death after leaving the establishment two weeks ago.
By a 4-0 vote, with Chairman Carmen Massimiano absent, the Licensing Board on Wednesday afternoon slapped Lach's Lounge at 129 Fenn St. with a weeklong suspension, effective immediately. The bar can reopen on Feb. 10 only if security cameras have been installed.
The board also ordered that the bar close at midnight for 60 days and pulled its entertainment license for the same period.
The penalty followed an hourlong show-cause hearing requested by the Pittsfield Police Department, which determined several people left the bar drunk on Jan. 23. Police had responded to the area of Lach's Lounge after receiving a 911 call around 1:30 a.m. of an "unresponsive male" in the nearby city parking lot.
The man, later identified as James Dominguez of Springfield, had been shot to death after being inside the bar, according to Lt. Michael Grady.
Since the homicide is the subject of an ongoing investigation, Grady couldn't provide details that led up to the shooting. He emphasized Wednesday's hearing was a result of officers finding several intoxicated people who had been in Lach's Lounge — not because of the shooting.
"Based on interviews of people who were in the bar, there was excess service of alcohol at the bar," Grady told the board. "At least one person was so drunk; he was unable to walk and talk."
Bar co-owner Arthur Beattie Jr. disputed Grady's claim police knew they were questioning bar patrons.
"They only saw people outside on the street; they didn't go into the bar ... I was told," he said. "There are not people being overserved in [our] bar."
Neither Beattie nor his partner were on site at that night, relying on what their staff told them — and that irritated the board.
Two months early, Dana Doyle promised to seek hour reductions if bar ownership returned for another show-cause hearing. On Nov. 30, the board put the liquor license holders on notice for a lack of cooperation for the Oct. 31 shooting of a city man on nearby Lincoln Street. Apparently, the weapon used had been in the bar prior to the shooting.
The owners weren't on the premises the night of the Halloween shooting.
"When there are incidents back to back ... it's not acceptable," said board member Diane Pero.
"It's clear to me ... you're not taking this seriously and that has to change," said Thomas Campoli.
The required changes include finally installing the security cameras promised at the Nov. 30 hearing; better or additional training for bar staff, and one or both of the owners being on site, especially late weekend nights when trouble seems to occur.
"After 11 o'clock, the [clientele] changes there," said board member Richard Stockwell, a patron at Lach's Lounge who left the bar three hours before Dominguez was found in the parking lot.
Pero was skeptical the owners would follow through with the board's conditions.
"Frankly, I don't think you have the credibility to carry them out," she said.
Lach's Lounge recent track record has also soured at least two neighboring businesses. Representatives from Cantarella School of Dance and MyCom Federal Credit Union said they were troubled to see the active crime scene later that morning of Jan. 23. School officials said many parents were ready to pull their children from the dance studio.
Mayor Linda M. Tyer, via a prepared statement, weighed in on Lach's Lounge, just a stone's throw from City Hall, noting a liquor license is a privilege that comes with responsibilities.
"The public is counting on us to ensure their safety. Now is the time for us to deliver a strong message that the city of Pittsfield does not tolerate illegal activities that take place in licensed establishments," read Roberta McCulloch-Dews, the mayor's director of administrative services.