Published in the January 23, 2018 edition.


WAKEFIELD — Twice in two weeks Police Chief Rick Smith has gone before the Board of Selectmen to inform them of occasions where his officers had to respond to incidents involving local bars, and twice the board has decided to take no action against the liquor license holder.

Last night, Chief Smith was before the board to discuss a pair of incidents involving fights that broke out inside Harrington’s on Water Street. Two weeks ago, he came to the board regarding a pair of highly intoxicated individuals walking on Main Street who told officers that they had come from the Dockside. The man and woman had to be taken to area hospitals.

Chief Smith said that the first of the two incidents involving Harrington’s occurred on the evening of Sept. 13, 2017 at approximately 11:40 p.m., as the bar was preparing to close. Police received a 911 call regarding a fight between two men inside the bar.

According to the written report of Officer Matthew Chambers, when he arrived at Harrington’s, staff and witnesses told him that a fight had broken out between two men. An employee tried to break up the fight by putting the aggressor in a headlock in order to move him outside. The aggressor threatened to return to the bar with a knife and bit the hand of the man restraining him. Once released from the headlock, he took off in a blue car, according to witness statements to police. Police were unable to locate the man.

The second incident occurred at about 8 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, Chief Smith said. By the time police arrived, the fight had moved out on to the street, according to Officer David Morales. Witnesses pointed out one of the involved men, who was walking away. The man was uncooperative, according to the report, stating only that he did not want medical services, did not want to answer questions and did not wish to press charges. Police noted a small cut to his nose that was bleeding.

The other man involved in the fight was never located, Smith told the board.

Smith said that officers tried to talk to staff and witnesses inside the bar, but “Nobody saw anything. They don’t want to be witnesses. But something happened,” he added. “The call came from inside the bar.”

Selectman Edward Dombroski asked the chief if police believed that the man who fled in the first incident had been over-served.

“We can assume that he wasn’t sober,” Smith said. “It’s the service of alcohol that causes the problem.” He said that he shared Dombroski’s concern over that man’s sobriety. “It creates a hazard for the community.”

Selectman Tony Longo noted that there have been three recent incidents, including the Dockside incident. “It’s time to get more serious about these violations.”

Chairman Paul DiNocco observed that this was the first complaint he’s heard about Harrington’s in the nine years that he’s been on the board. Chief Smith said that it’s only been since the town passed new liquor regulations a few years ago that the police have felt that they had the “teeth” to go after violations.

In response to another board member’s question, Smith said that it was a subjective judgement as to whether a person has been “overserved” alcohol.

“I don’t think it has to be overserving,” Smith said. “Obviously, liquor was served and it resulted in two fights. My concern is that because of bad behavior in some of these licensed establishments, they are putting members of your police department at risk. I’m the one who has to deal with that.”

Attorney Brian McGrail represented Harrington’s at last night’s hearing, flanked by owners Brendan O’Reilly, Lisa O’Neil and Dan O’Neil.

McGrail reviewed Harrington’s history, noting that it opened at the water street location in 2004 and has become “a pillar of downtown Wakefield,” a family-style restaurant/pub that served as an example for other restaurants of what a good location Wakefield is.

McGrail recounted the many ways that Harrington’s was “vested’ in the community, from participating in events like the Holiday Stroll and Festival Italia to sponsoring local groups and donating their function room at no charge, among other things.

He noted that since opening in 2004, Harrington’s had never before been called before the selectmen for any reason. He said that the owners take their responsibility as liquor license holders very seriously. All servers are TIPS certified and they willingly bring on police details when they anticipate larger than normal crowds, such as on St. Patrick’s Day and other holidays.

He said that on numerous occasions they have refused to serve people who have arrived at the bar already drunk, but have instead given them food and in some cases called police.

McGrail said that while they understood that police need to report incidents, his clients were “a little uncomfortable, embarrassed and disappointed at having to be here tonight.”

McGrail did not dispute the hard facts of the police reports as recounted by Chief Smith. But he did dispute the presumption that the individuals were intoxicated or had been overserved.

He noted that the statutes and local regulations say that a liquor license holder “shall not permit” disorderly behavior on the premises. He noted that the police reports for each incident make no reference to, or allegation of, over-serving.

“We don’t know what happened,” McGrail argued. “You can’t determine that just because a fight occurred that over-serving occurred. Nothing in the record shows that alcohol caused the problem.”

He said that in neither case did Harrington’s staff “permit” the altercations. In both cases, he said, Harrington’s staff called police for help.

In light of two incidents in two months, Dombroski wanted to know what Harrington’s was planning to do to prevent future incidents.

O’Reilly said that Harrington’s staff already keeps tabs and if patrons seem to be getting louder, tells them to keep it down or get out. “Maybe we’ll act on loud conversations sooner.”

Lisa O’Neil said that the bartenders have been there a long time and suggested that the two incidents were an anomaly. She said that the staff did the right thing to call police. She said that the bartenders have reflected on the incidents and the episodes have been discussed internally. 

“We’ll keep doing what we’re doing and think about how they could have been prevented,” she said. “We don’t want this to happen again. This is not taken lightly.”

McGrail pointed out that Harrington’s has taken the step of investing in new security cameras.

Dombroski was still concerned. He said that he didn’t believe that Harrington’s was “permitting” the bad behavior, but said that he didn’t think the board should wait for an officer to be injured. He added that Harrington’s plan to continue doing what it has been doing “doesn’t assure me that it won’t happen again.” 

Selectman Brian Falvey was skeptical of the claim that alcohol was not a factor.

“I think it’s reasonable to assume that if there’s a fight at closing time, that they were intoxicated.” But he suggested that it was difficult to assign liability when the standard for over-serving is based on the subjective judgment of the bartender.

“It’s a bar,” he said. “People go there for a few drinks.”

Board member Ann Santos suggested that “an uptick in people being angry” was a factor.  “I almost saw a fight in 7Eleven over Trump,” she said, also citing other instances of political anger.

She indicated that she was uncomfortable assigning responsibility at this time. “I don’t know if I could find a violation.” However, she said if something happens in the future, the board could certainly look back to incidents that have occurred. 

Selectman Mehreen Butt said that this was the fourth such incident since she has been on the board.

“I’m tired of it,” she said. “I don’t want to walk down the street and see fights break out. It’s a tone and attitude that I don’t want to see in this town.” She suggested that the board take some kind of stand on behalf of the town.

“What is our attitude toward drunkenness and violence?” she asked. “What are we going to do about it?”

Chairman Paul DiNocco recommended that the selectmen send a letter to all licensed establishments in light if the recent increase in incidents.

Falvey said that Harrington’s was “to be commended” for doing the right thing in these incidents, but added that Chief Smith was also to be commended for his concern in bringing them to the board’s attention.

The board closed the hearing without making any finding or taking any action related to the incidents.