Casa Rica’s liquor license suspended; details emerge on violent incidents

11/05/2010 5:13 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO Casa Rica Bar and Restaurant opened on East Main Street in the spring of 2009. Acts of violence soon followed.

The State Liquor Authority was supposed to hold a hearing in December on whether to revoke Casa Rica’s liquor license, but in light of continued violence at the downtown Riverhead bar and restaurant, it instead decided to take emergency action Wednesday and suspended Casa Rica’s liquor license immediately.
“This place is out of control,” liquor authority commissioner Noreen Healey said at a Wednesday meeting in Manhattan, footage from which was viewed by the News-Review. “The violence is escalating and the next thing, somebody’s going to be dead from this place, it’s so out of control.”
SLA senior attorney Philip Pickus presented the commissioners with extensive evidence detailing all the violent incidents that have occurred at the restaurant since it opened in January 2009. At one point, he showed commissioners a photo taken after a man’s arm was partially severed by a machete at the club on July 13, 2009, and said, “This is not something that looks like something from a bar fight on Long Island. This looks like something from the Battle of the Bulge.”
Mr. Pickus said, “The Riverhead Police Department has responded to no fewer than 11 violent fights and/or disorderly behavior at or around the licensed premises [Casa Rica] since May 18, 2009.”
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller also submitted an affidavit calling for the closure of the bar, which he said has cost the town more than $23,000 in overtime costs for a special patrol the department instituted due to Casa Rica.
“On or about Friday, July 16, 2010, I instituted an overtime detail…,” the chief wrote. “The detail consists of two police officers, one on East Main Street near the front of the Casa Rica and one in the rear parking lot of the Casa Rica.” It runs from 10 p.m. on Friday nights to 4 a.m. on Saturday mornings, he wrote.
The SLA’s three-member board of commissioners voted unanimously for what’s known as an emergency summary suspension of Casa Rica’s liquor license, effective immediately. Casa Rica’s owners, a company called Potrerillo’s Corp., has until Nov. 24 to enter a plea on the charges specified Wednesday, which deal with allowing the club to become disorderly, allowing fights and injuries to occur at the club, employing unlicensed security guards and excessive noise.
“The licensee has employed unlicensed, unqualified security personnel who have allowed patrons to be injured,” Mr. Pickus said. “This situation will continue to pose a threat to future patrons and the surrounding area unless immediate action is taken.”
There have been 129 calls for police attention since Feb. 5, 2009. This has resulted in 26 violations, two misdemeanors and 10 felony charges, he said On Wednesday, Mr. Pickus read off a litany of violent incidents that have occurred at Casa Rica since in opened in Jan. 2009.
Here is the complete list:
Oct. 19, 2010: Two intoxicated males got into a fight while inside Casa Rica. One of the individuals was stabbed in the upper body, causing serious physical injuries. The victim was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital and the suspect fled but was later arrested.
Oct. 16, 2010: Police observed two males in a physical altercation in the rear of the premises. Police later discovered that during the altercation, one male had removed two gold necklaces from the other and fled into the parking lot. The male was apprehended and arrested for robbery in the third degree.
Oct. 10, 2010: Police arrested a man for felony assault for stabbing another man. The victim was in critical condition. The man who was arrested had already been arrested on Aug. 24, 2009 at Casa Rica for felony menacing.
July 27, 2010: Police responded to the Casa Rica due to a disturbance. They interviewed an employee who stated that a patron hit him in the head with a bottle. The employee had a laceration on his left ear. The police then interviewed the 911 caller, a taxi driver, who told them that the employee had thrown the male off the deck, where he landed on concrete. After landing on the concrete, the employee then proceeded to kick the male in the face. A second witness also observed the male having been thrown off the deck and kicked in the face. The male was taken to an area hospital.
May 23, 2010: A police officer witnessed 10 to 12 men fighting in the rear parking lot of Casa Rica. The men fled upon arrival of the police. After interviewing security, it was determined that a fight began inside Casa Rica. During the fight, numerous males had removed their belts to use as weapons. Security removed all of the individuals to the front of the premises. At this time, one person received a facial injury. The police report notes that all security personnel and the manager had left the scene prior to completion of the investigation.
Aug. 24, 2009: A Casa Rica employee reported that five men were in front of the premises threatening him and other employees with a machete, knives, chains and bottles. As police arrived, the individuals ran away. Three individuals were later charged with menacing.
July 27, 2009: Police responded to Casa Rica, a staff member from the premises ejected a patron for fighting inside the premises.
July 26, 2009: Police responded to a report that an individual was escorted out of Casa Rica for causing an unknown disturbance, and then refused to leave the area. Police later advised the individual to leave and he complied.
July 25, 2009: Police responded to a 911 call stating that approximately 15 individuals were fighting in the rear parking lot of Casa Rica. Officers directed management to close the premises for the remainder of the evening. Management and security complied. Patrol units stood by while customers left the area.
July 25, 2009: Police responded to Casa Rica and found an individual in front of the premises with a bloody nose. He told  police that two individuals had pushed him outside the premises and started hitting him. Police arrested both individuals.
July 13, 2009: Police responded to an assault in progress at the licensed premises. While en route, the police observed a male running down East Avenue. He was detained and later arrested. When police arrived at the premises, they observed three individuals standing near an individual on the ground. The male on the ground had multiple lacerations to his arm. EMS was called. Police took notarized statements from the three witnesses and later from the victim. It was determined that while the individual was on the rear deck of the licensed premises, one male attacked him with a machete. This attack partially severed the arm of the victim.
June 21, 2009: An officer responded to Casa Rica in reference to a dispute. The dispute involved five males. The owner used mace to break up the dispute.
June 13, 2009: Officers responded to a 911 report of males fighting in the rear parking area of the premises. The group dispersed upon arrival of the police.
June 13, 2009: Officers responded to six subjects drinking alcohol and engaging in a verbal confrontation in front of Casa Rica, in the hallway to the entrance. Upon arrival of the police, the group dispersed back into the premises and down the street.
May 18, 2009: A group of intoxicated males were fighting and causing a disturbance at Casa Rica. Responding officers told the subjects to leave the area.
Aug. 6, 2010: Carlos Moreno Bonilla was arrested for employing unlicensed security guards at Casa Rica. Three security guards were also arrested.
tgannon@timesreview.com

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