Pittsfield club faces sanctions in wake of March 15 melee
PITTSFIELD -- A Wahconah Street bar faces a liquor license suspension and curtailed hours of operation following a melee outside the club in last month that city police say was the "worst scene" in years.
The Pittsfield Licensing Board on Monday said Johnny's Beach Club, formerly Pepe's Wings & Dogs but under the same ownership, will likely lose its license temporarily, but for how long will be determined at a special board meeting within a few days. The board also plans to discuss an earlier closing time for Johnny's -- possibly midnight-- for up to 90 days in an effort to lessen the late-night trouble at the bar that currently closes at the state-mandated 2 a.m.
The licensing authority's promised punishment came after a 90-minute show cause hearing into the incident March 15 that led to seven arrests and at least two city police officers being kicked and punched.
"A suspension is certainly in order," said acting Chairman Robert Quattrochi. "The hours have to be cut back in hopes this [type of] crowd dissipates."
"I think people in the neighborhood deserve peace, as well," added board member Dana Doyle.
If enacted, owner John Giardina's liquor license suspension would be his third in more than four years. Under the Pepe's name, Giardina received two, three-day suspensions from the board in late 2009 and August 2010 due to bar fights at the Wahconah Street location.
The trouble on March 15 began around 1 a.m. when police responded to a call from a Johnny's employee that two patrons were tossed out for fighting. When officers arrived, about 100 people were leaving the bar -- the night cut short by bar staff -- with some "highly intoxicated" and acting belligerent, according to police.
As the initial responding officers started to make arrests, the crowd got out of control -- some urging others to fight the police -- prompting the officers to call for backup. Eventually all on-duty Pittsfield police along with help the Lanesborough, Dalton police departments, state police and deputies from the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office responded. The situation took about an hour to resolve.
During the hearing, the five Pittsfield police officers who responded to the incident described a chaotic and dangerous situation.
"It was pandemonium pretty quick," said Officer Dave Halls. "It was all we could do to handle the crowd."
"In my 15 years, it was one of the worst scenes I had been part of," added Officer Michael McHugh.
Giardina, who was visiting his mother in Florida at the time, said he was dismayed to hear what happened.
"I'm clearly upset and disgusted with what you had to go through," he said, directing his remarks at the five officers.
However, Giardina believes a closing time of midnight will serious hurt his business as most of his clientele -- especially on Friday and Saturday nights -- arrive two hours before the current 2 a.m. closing.
Nevertheless, city police say something must be done to stem the tide of trouble at Johnny's. Since January 2013, local authorities have responded to 45 calls involving various incidents at the bar, according to Lt. Michael Grady.
"Forty-five times in 15 months is a problem," Grady told the Licensing Board. "Summer isn't even here yet; we can't have a repeat [ of this] on Wahconah Street."
"Not only can't it happen on Wahconah Street, it can't happen anywhere in Pittsfield," added board member Richard Stockwell.
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