14 Sep 2014
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City Rolls Back Hours at Oliveira's Again After Re-Doing Hearing

The city's Licensing Board voted Monday night to make closing time 10 p.m. at the Brazilian restaurant in light of numerous violent incidents involving patrons over the past year.

The Peabody Licensing Board voted again Monday night to roll back hours at Oliveira's Steak House for the next six months in light of several violent incidents, including a nonfatal stabbing, that occurred this past fall.

The Walnut Street restaurant and bar will now have to close at 10 p.m. each night, starting Jan. 20, and board members hope that will help curb the violence that has flared repeatedly there over the past two years. Previously, closing time at Oliveira's was 1 a.m.

"What happens outside is a direct result of what happens inside," said board member Fred Murtagh, adding that patrons are most likely being over-served.

"This is just uncalled for and...it's almost like a slap in the face to the city of Peabody," he said. "We were brought up to respect [police]... What chance does one or two or three or four of our policemen have against a crowd of 20, 30, 50 and they're all drunk and don't have any common-sense. We don't need this."

The board initially decided to roll back the hours in November, but after a court appeal, a judge ruled the board didn't properly advertise or notify the restaurant owners they could be facing sanctions that night and suggested they just start the process over.

Police have responded to numerous incidents, ranging from loud and disorderly crowds to fistfights between patrons that spilled outside the bar onto Walnut Street, and then the stabbing in October.

Police say Oliveira's is the only place in the city that requires regular police intervention and former Chief Robert Champagne even twice urged the Licensing Board to revoke the liquor license or impose serious sanctions.

Officers recounted some of the recent incidents for the board Monday night.

Sgt. David Bonfanti described how one night he and several officers responded to an altercation outside Oliveira's and ultimately arrested three people and issued a court summons to a fourth.

He had arrested two combative females and put them in a cruiser, but then while assisting another officer in subduing a male, someone from the crowd entered the cruiser and let one of the handcuffed females escape.

Bonfanti said it took several officers to restore order on Walnut Street that night.

Officers Brian Colella and James Christman responded to a fight outside the bar around 1 a.m. on Oct. 13 and found one male lying in the middle of the road as a crowd stood by and people screamed that the suspect fled up the street.

Colella said two people were hospitalized with serious facial injuries and two suspects were arrested. Witnesses and victims told officers the people were coming out of Oliveira's and one witness, who was at the Peabody Coffee House across the street, even videotaped part of the incident.

Deputy Police Chief Martin Cohan showed that video to board members Monday night. At one point, Chairman Minas Dakos gasped, "Oh my God." Nancy Delaney and Murtagh just shook their heads.

Delaney later said she'd even consider rolling back the hours for a year. "After seeing that video, I'm very concerned."

Ward 3 City Councilor Jim Moutsoulas was also a witness that night. He told board members he was at a family gathering at the Peabody Coffee House and walked out the door to see a man lying in the street, unresponsive.

"I was shocked at what I was seeing," Moutsoulas said. He added that Walnut Street had a bad reputation when he was growing up, but this is worse and he's concerned for the safety of the neighborhood.

"For the reputation it's had, I've never in my life seen such violence," he said.

Sgt. Vincent Patermo also testified. As a supervisor, he's been called down there often. After 25 years on the force, he says he's never seen any place in Peabody "where we've had to go on such a regular basis other than this."

"We made a point to try to be proactive and go down there [at closing time]...and try to prevent anything from happening, but that hasn't been too successful because the crowds that come out of there are pretty large and they get...loud and it gets volatile," said Patermo.

"They have security there, but it's just not enough to handle what they've got there," he said, adding that individual patrol units have been overwhelmed at times as well.

"It's dangerous for us, because of the amount of people there and everybody wants to get a shot in. We've got to try to go in there and break this up and we have people coming at us from every different angle," Patermo said.

He added that motorists regularly "fly" down Walnut Street as well, adding further danger to the situation.

City councilor Tom Gould, who also spoke at the hearing, urged the board to take a stance before a tragedy occurs. He said there are youth basketball leagues at St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church next door and those youths have been witnesses at times to incidents.

Pamela Karamas Katsiris, the parish president at St. Val's, said the church installed a section of fence at the front lot to prevent Oliveira's patrons from parking there. The problem just migrated to the church's other lot.

Now, every Monday morning, church members are picking up empty bottles, broken glass, cigarette butts and trash from their lot, she said.

"We've tried to be good neighbors...we don't want to deprive anyone of their right to earn a living, but there has been issues and we've had to take actions to protect our property and reduce the liability for us as well," she said, adding that there has been property damage as well.

Katsiris said in the warmer months, tables and chairs were even coming out onto the church's property via a side door at Oliveira's. She said people were drinking out there as well.

Attorney John Keilty, in defense of the owners, acknowledged a "great strain" was being placed on police to deal with the situation, but reiterated Monday most of the incidents police documented were before his clients -- Sebastia Gomes and Alia Damasceno -- assumed ownership of the bar. That wasn't finalized until late summer.

They also believe the stabbing and two or three other larger recent brawls were due to a "Latino night" the bar hosted that drew crowds from as far away as Lowell, Lawrence and Boston.

Keilty said Gomes canceled that function in November and the vendor wasn't welcome anymore. Since then, he said, there haven't been anymore incidents.

Delaney corrected Keilty though, saying there was one instance Dec. 15 where a female patron was reportedly over-served and then tried to get in her car and drive.

Keilty said Gomes is committed to running a "family-style restaurant" and only hosting functions, such as weddings and birthday parties. He added that many of the incidents occurred outside the restaurant as well.

He said that if the board were to consider revoking the license, as Champagne had suggested before, it would be "devastating to the family that has invested so much in this facility and that has worked so hard."

"From what I've heard, the food is terrific. So if you just pushed the food and forget this other stuff," Dakos said. He noted the board has revoked other licenses in the past after only a couple violations.

"We got a fair hearing and we'll have to decide what our next step is," Keilty told reporters afterward. He acknowledged the city presented a very compelling case that evening.

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