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Panchos Mexican Restaurant has its alcohol serving hours reduced after March 26 incident

Panchos Mexican Restaurant on North Street

Panchos Mexican Restaurant will have its alcohol service hours reduced after events on March 26 got police called to the restaurant twice within an hour.

PITTFIELD — Panchos Mexican Restaurant will have its alcohol serving hours reduced for three weeks following a decision by the Pittsfield Licensing Board.

The actions were taken by the board Monday at a show cause hearing, where members unanimously voted to impose the disciplinary action.

The hearing was held at the request of the Pittsfield Police Department after they were called to the restaurant twice on March 26.

Board members were tasked with determining how Gabriel Columna, the restaurant’s owner, conducted business that night, as a reported fight occurred in the men’s room and an agitator from that fight reportedly began throwing glass bottles at the bar. Officers responded after getting three 911 calls from inside the bar, including one from Columna.

Board members heard the police reports from Officer Nicholas Bryant, one of the responders to the scene. In addition, they saw 14 minutes of bodycam footage from one of the responding officers.

That was enough for board members to determine that while Columna and his employees tried to do many things right, the scene described and depicted was unsafe and needed to be addressed.

“That incident puts a lot of people at jeopardy,” said board member Kathleen Amuso. “I don’t like that. Like I said, I think you’ve done some things right, but I think it was a disruptive evening with a lot of things that didn’t go right and could have gotten worse.”

The motion to reduce the hours was made by Vice Chair Richard Stockwell. Panchos is licensed to serve alcohol until 2 a.m. normally, but for the next three weeks will be forced to have last call at 11:30 p.m. and have everyone out by midnight, per Stockwell and the board.

Panchos will resume normal operations on June 12. The restaurant will also operate for the next year with the understanding that if the restaurant lands before the Licensing Board again, it will be issued a seven-day suspension of its liquor license.

The show cause hearing was called in relation to events on the night of March 26, where the restaurant’s owners stood accused of overcrowding the establishment and hosting live entertainment without a license when the fight occurred.

The hearing was initially scheduled for April 24, but was continued to give the restaurant’s owners time to gather footage from their security cameras. Those cameras only provide a live feed and did not have recordings stored, however.

Police were called on two separate occasions in the wee hours of the morning on March 26. At 12:41 a.m., officers responded when neighbors in the apartments above the restaurant called in a noise complaint as the restaurant’s “Turn Up Saturday” event took place. That was resolved without issue, as an officer told the security guard outside the restaurant to turn the music down.

The second call, at 1:29 a.m., was for the fracas that started in the men’s room and the bottle throwing.

Bryant said that he and other responding officers saw a large crowd of people on the sidewalks in front of the restaurant and many more funneling out when they arrived, and estimated the restaurant was well over its occupancy.

Bryant also said that many of the bar’s patrons were uncooperative and, based on his assessment, visibly intoxicated. Bryant said there was a thick odor of alcohol in the bar, and noted that there was also a scent of marijuana. Gabriel Columna, Jr., the owner’s son, disputed that, saying they do not tolerate marijuana usage in the restaurant.

Some patrons had reportedly sustained injuries. There was one man sitting on the curb outside the restaurant with a towel to his head and a “laceration” of some kind, but he did not accept help from police and left the scene.

Attorney Loretta Mach represented Columna and the restaurant in the hearing Monday. Columna maintained any fighting that happened was limited to two men in the restroom, and that as soon as the owners became aware of it, they started getting people out of the restaurant.

Mach contested the police department’s assertion that the bar was over occupancy, and said the real number of patrons was difficult to determine since police were counting people who were standing outside the bar who may never have gone in. Byrant noted that the officers were not “counting heads” while the incident was unfolding, and that the numbers he presented were based on his estimates and others at the scene.

Mach said that the restaurant was enhancing its security system and getting more cameras as a result of the incident.

“Mr. Columna thought he was taking all the precautions he could at the time,” Mach said.

Matt Martinez can be reached at mmartinez@berkshireeagle.com.

News Reporter

Matt Martinez is a news reporter at The Berkshire Eagle. He worked at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, graduated Marquette University. He is a former Report for America corps member.

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