East Hampton Town’s crackdown on bars and nightclubs, particularly in Montauk, that began in 2015 is “out of control” and the product of “hysteria” on the part of the previous administration, attorney Lawrence Kelly charged this week.
Kelly was in a crowing mood. He had successfully defended a Montauk establishment against a proceeding filed by the State Liquor Authority, which was acting on a complaint filed by East Hampton Town police.
The attorney has made a living over the past few years representing local establishments targeted by police, the fire marshal’s office, and code enforcement. The town has also had its share of victories, resulting in club owners paying fines to settle cases.
Kelly is currently defending three nightclubs in Montauk that had minor disturbances on site. The clubs were also cited by code enforcement officers for overcrowding and related offenses.
The attorney said he was surprised to learn that after he took the town to court to challenge the overcrowding charges, at one establishment, police issued a referral to the SLA on what he said were “trumped up” charges.
The SLA has the authority to put an establishment out of business, so there was considerable consternation on the part of his client, Kelly said.
The subject of that SLA hearing was Ruschmeyer’s, aka Work Eat and Play LLC, an establishment repeatedly targeted by code enforcement.
On July 1, 2017, a police officer responded to Ruschmeyer’s for a matter unrelated to code enforcement. According to testimony at the administrative hearing, a man and a woman in the parking lot at the club became belligerent, and the male punched an employee. Police were called, but no charges were filed. There was no security surveillance in the lot.
Although Ruschmeyer’s called the police in as a precaution for that matter, the unrelated code enforcement actions continued unabated against the club and several other night clubs in Montauk, Kelly said.
He went public with his charges that the town was bent on destroying Montauk bars and nightclubs as part of a political agenda.
The town also responded through the newspapers.
On August 9, 2017 the New York Post reported, “Another Montauk hot spot, Ruschmeyer’s, is also in trouble, according to [Michael] Sendlenski, the town attorney. Ruschmeyer’s was cited last weekend for having close to 200 people in a room meant for 68, he said.”
In an article entitled, “Ruschmeyer’s Next Target in Crackdown” in The East Hampton Star, it was reported, “The town board on Tuesday authorized Sendlenski to seek a restraining order against Ruschmeyer’s. Over the weekend, close to 200 people were found partying in a cleared-out dining room with a legal occupancy limit of 48, Mr. Sendlenski said Tuesday.”
“Sendlenski said he plans this week to seek injunctive relief against Ruschmeyer’s which was cited both last weekend and in June, including for having nearly 200 people in a room where only 50 are permitted,” read an article in Newsday. “There’s dangerous overcrowding there, and they’re not using property in conformity with the allowable use of the property Sendlenski said.”
Kelly said the town board orchestrated an atmosphere of hysteria. “After the Newsday article, 400 people showed up to complain. The young Newsday reporter took it upon herself to stir things up.”
After Kelly filed to defend the code violation charges, he said he was shocked to find the town police made a referral to the SLA seven weeks after the July 1 incident. “Officers responded to a fight at Ruschmeyer’s . . . several patrons were fighting inside . . . then they started to fight with security personnel,” the report stated.
“Every time they do this they make sure they put the word ‘fighting’ in their report to the SLA,” Kelly said. “They think it makes their case stronger.”
At the SLA hearing on March 29, a different version of the story emerged. Testifying before Administrative Judge Nicholas DeCesare, Officer [Justin] Solof, the East Hampton Town police officer who responded to Ruschmeyer’s on the night of July 1, 2017, testified that when he arrived he found “a disturbance in the parking lot area.” The hearing record reports, “according to Solof, the entire incident occurred outside the premises. Solof confirmed no disorder occurred inside.”
DeCesare ruled, “There is no substantial evidence to sustain the charge” of fighting. “The incident was not foreseeable and constituted an instantaneous and spontaneous event.”
Kelly bristled that the police had sent the report to the SLA only after he sought justice in the courts on the ordinance charges, and he said he was angered the police report said a fight had occurred inside the premises.
East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said the attorney was mistaken.
“We have a duty to report to the SLA,” Sarlo countered, “It’s routine. It’s part of the job.”
As for the delay between the event on July and the filing with the SLA seven weeks later, Sarlo said gaps are routine because an officer only has time to sit down every month or so to catch up on the paperwork.
As for where the fight took place, Chief Sarlo said “inside” in police jargon means “on the property.”