The popular Block Island inn, restaurant and bar is facing backlash after a brawl at a packed, free reggae music festival on Aug. 8 led to arrests at the venue and later on the Block Island ferry.
Philippi 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 Tuesday that the two-week suspension was a “death sentence” that would cause irreparable harm to Ballard.
LaPlante noted that most of Ballard’s 100-plus employees are on H-2B visas, which allow U.S. employers to bring in noncitizens for temporary work.
“This two-week penalty after more than a decade without violations is going to force these employees to scramble and find work at this difficult time because it’s the end of the season,” La Plante said. “They will be banned forever from earning the money. It will be lost forever.”
Nicholas A. Solitro of Robert E. Craven & Associates of North Kingstown, who represents New Shoreham, said there were “masses” of people jumping fences and entering Ballard’s property on Aug. 8 without having their IDs checked or their bags. Ballard’s ended the music festival an hour early, at 6 p.m., stopping the music and closing the bars, which Solitro said caused a “mass exodus” of patrons from the venue to the nearby ferry docks. The situation on the docks that night was described by the city’s former police captain as “chaotic”.
LaPlante said Monday night’s council members were “deluded” into suggesting Filippi was responsible for the lines his patrons formed on the ferry after leaving the Ballard property. He said there has been one trespassing arrest on the Ballard property, but claims more problems have occurred on the ferry, which is owned by Interstate Navigation.
Solitro acknowledged that while it was Ballard’s first official offense in more than 15 years, he said the event had gotten “out of control” and became dangerous for police, ferry employees and attendees.
“It was a very dangerous situation. We just can’t have it again,” Solitro said. “When it comes to safety versus economy [issues]I will always stand on the side of public safety.”
For six hours Monday night, the five members of New Shoreham City Council, which also acts as the Board of License Commissioners, heard statements from attorneys, witness testimony and cross-examination and watched videos before unanimously approving a motion to suspend the licenses on Ballard’s liquor and entertainment for 14 days starting at midnight on Tuesday. The suspension will prohibit Ballard’s from hosting entertainment or serving alcohol over Labor Day weekend, one of the busiest times of the year.
“We expected the City Council’s apparently pre-prepared decision to be read aloud and not even discussed by the Board of License Commissioners, after nearly five hours of live testimony in [Monday night’s] cause hearing,” Ballard spokeswoman Kimberly Poland told the Globe in a statement Tuesday. “Ballard will immediately appeal the baseless decision to the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation and the Supreme Court.” She added that Filippi and the company had no further comment at this time.
In an 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 faced complaints of rudeness and intoxication at the restaurant this year: There have been 49 calls to the police or fire department for disorderly conduct, noise and other issues at the restaurant since May 1.
Board members did not go into executive session during the show-cause hearing, and there was little discussion among them before they voted unanimously to suspend Ballard’s licenses. LaPlante argued that council members had a preliminary decision before Monday’s hearing. After Monday night’s hearing, Filippi and his attorneys declined to comment to the Globe, although James Callaghan of Callaghan & Callaghan in North Kingstown, who also represents New Shoreham, said he expects Filippi and his team to “do something very soon.”
Filippi’s lawyers are expected to appeal to the Supreme Court, but had not yet done so as of 3 p.m.
Although the license violations discussed at Monday’s show cause hearing are considered the entertainment establishment’s first violation, city records show Ballard’s has had a previous show cause hearing that resulted in action against their licenses in 2004, Ballard’s was the subject of 29 noise complaints from May 15, 2004, to July 19, 2004, including 10 complaints on July 19, 2004 alone, according to city records. The City Council approved sanctions on Ballard’s at a hearing on July 28, 2004, including the suspension of their liquor license for 24 hours in early August 2004 and their outdoor entertainment license from midnight on August 6 until midnight on the 12 August. But a day before the suspension began, Ballard’s filed an appeal in Washington County Superior Court seeking a temporary restraining order against the ruling.
The city and the Ballard’s reached a settlement at the time, records show, that dismissed the complaints and legally expunged all records of Ballard’s actions against their city licenses.
Read appellant’s urgent motion to stay and Ballard’s objection to the motion to stay below:
This article has been updated with reports 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 reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz. Carlos Munoz can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ReadCarlos and on Instagram @Carlosbrknews.