A Woonsocket bar has been a magnet for trouble over the past year, with repeated fights and one patron pulling a gun in the parking lot. A neighbor who’s captured much of it on her home’s surveillance cameras wants to know why it’s taken the city months to crack down. Jim Hummel sits down with her - and the city’s police chief to talk about the travel of the case.
Tucked in between a street full of multi-family homes, the one-story building in the north end of Woonsocket had a history of being a friendly, neighborhood bar - which coexisted well with the homes surrounding it.
But over the past year, under a different owner, Rick’s Bar and Grille has evolved into a magnet for trouble - with police responding to calls for fights, loud music, assault, and allegations of underage drinking.
Martin: ``We found hypodermic needles on the grass…’’
Jean Martin and her husband have had a box seat for all of the problems. The Martins’ house is a stone’s throw from the back door of the bar, where patrons often spill out at or before closing time and mingle in the parking lot. Jean Martin sees - and hears - it all from her bedroom window.
Martin, who years ago, worked at the bar when it was called Bolducs said the crowd has changed dramatically, attracting a rougher element. Her complaints to the city, she says, have fueled some patrons’ anger toward her.
Martin: ``You couldn’t go outside I couldn’t sit outside without people making comments up at my deck to me.’’
So a year ago Martin installed multiple security cameras that have taken in all of the action - and at times it’s not been pretty.
Fights, cars spinning their wheels outside her bedroom window and people urinating in the parking lot, plus chaotic scenes just yards from her property.
But it’s this video, taken last November 30th that Martin says took the problems to another level: a man pulling out a gun and pointing it at several people in the parking lot. The bar’s owner, Richard Dias, is seen trying to disperse the crowd. But he never calls police, as required by the city.
Hummel: ``And you see a guy pulling a gun. What goes through you head?’’
Martin: ``Absolute fear. Absolutely fear. If it happened once it can happen again.’’
Hummel: And so you’re worried maybe a bullet’s going to come your way.’’
Martin: ``Absolutely. I mean this is our family room, my grandchildren are here.’’
So Martin went to members of the city council and the city’s police chief - repeatedly.
Carey: ``They’re on our radar and we try to monitor that, even though we might not have a detail officer, we’ve spent considerable amount of time up there, whether it’s self-initiated or a response to a call for service.’’
Chief Thomas Carey has met with Dias to talk about the problems and then he compiled a list of police responses in 2014 for the council, which doubles as the city’s liquor licensing board.
Carey said sometimes officers found problems when they arrived, other times not, even when they got there within minutes of the call.
The licensing board called in Dias last October - before the gun incident - for a hearing, to answer to several violations brought by the police.
After the gun incident in November, Dias was charged criminally by police with obstruction. The city reached an agreement with Dias to close for two days - of his choice - and to hire a police detail through January.
But when that ended, the trouble gradually started up again.
And in May a woman punched another female patron, seriously injuring her. But it wasn’t until June 29th that the council brought Dias back to face five more charges - seven months after the gun incident. And Martin can’t understand the delay - especially with the videotapes she supplied the police and the council.
Martin: ``I think at one point they thought of me as being maybe over-emotional, over-hysterical.’’
Hummel: ``But you gave them the videos.’’
Martin: ``Yes I did.’’
Hummel: ``And what did they say when they saw three guys, two guys running around like this.’’
Martin: ``They didn’t say too much to me - they just said we’re working on it.’’
Hummel: ``We know what’s going on in Providence, right?’’
Hummel: ``And did that go through your mind?’’
Martin: ``Immediately - and now even more so as time went by I kept saying: why isn’t anything being done? Not only with the guns, people were harassing me, doing things in front of the window.’’
City Solicitor Michael Marcello - who prosecuted the five charges at last month’s meeting, told The Hummel Report later he could not say why Dias was not brought in sooner after receiving the gun video. Council president Al Brien said he wanted to move more quickly but was told Dias’s previous violations needed to be settled first.
And the chief said the city had to put together a thorough case before finally holding a hearing last month.
Hummel: ``When you look at that videotape, I guess the question Mrs. Martin has and some watching from afar might say, was that not enough to bring in Mr. Dias at that point and say, whoa, we’re at another level now. You see what’s going on in Providence, right?’’
Carey: ``Well, he did get arrested for that case.’’
Hummel: ``Right, but what I’m saying…’’
Carey: ``Without getting into all the details.’’
Hummel: ``But to bring (the owner) in immediately. The show cause (hearing) doesn’t happen until the end of June.’’
Carey: ``Well he did have a detail for a certain time period, not at this past show cause hearing, but the previous one, just to make sure there were no problems and there was a police presence.’’
Hummel: ``Why wasn’t he brought up now, until June?’’
Carey: ``Well, again I work with the city solicitor, as you can see by all of these reports, all of these reports were submitted to the city council. I can make a recommendation for the show cause hearing.’’
At the June hearing, Dias tried to defend his actions on November 30th under questioning from Marcello’s the city’s solicitor
Marcello: ``Did you see a gun?’’
Marcello: ``You never saw a gun that night?’’
Marcello: ``Did you see the video that was here today?’’
Marcello: ``Are you depicted in that video in any way?’’
Dias: ``I am in the video, yes’’
Marcello: ``So even though you’re in the video you never saw a gun?’’
Dias also denied it was a handgun, saying instead that it was a stun gun. The council wasn’t buying it - and neither was Martin.
Hummel: ``Is there any doubt in your mind when you look at that video that it was a gun?’’
Martin: ``Absolutely not. Absolutely not.’’
Hummel: ``Not a stun gun?’’
Martin: ``Not a stun gun. No. It had a barrel on it, it was a gun’’
The chief says his department is still investigating who it was who pulled the gun that night eight months ago and that it’s still an open case.
Meanwhile, after three and a half hours of testimony last month, the board of license commissioners voted to suspend the bar’s license from July 2nd through July 5th.
It also prohibited all outside activity, except for smoking.
Ordered a private detail on Thursday nights and a police detail on Friday and Saturday nights for July and August.
And it ordered surveillance cameras to be installed.
Plus, it suspended the bar’s entertainment license for two months.
Chief Carey says having a police officer there on weekend nights - as Dias did earlier this year - should go a long way to solving the problem and it’s something the council could consider depending on how the next few months go.
The chief added that Dias is now on a very short leash.
Carey: ``Are you going to make Mr. Dias have detail officers all the time? Having an officer there does calm things down a little bit and things did calm down. And when the detail officers left, eventually it began to pick up. But there have been some slow periods where we haven’t had many calls at Rick’s Bar and Grille.’’
Martin, who attended the hearing and listened as the penalties were read, told us later, she is pleased with what happened.
But she still doesn’t understand why it took so long.
Martin: ``The tapes show all of the violations. Every single one - from drinking out in public, to urination to harassment, to fighting, to all of these, these are all violations. Why wasn’t he brought up on one until now?’’
In Woonsocket, Jim Hummel for The Hummel Report.