Police observed ‘multiple violations’ in Porta
The Amherst Police Department said Monday that they are actively investigating the restaurant Porta over potential violations of town permits and serving alcohol to minors, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
“There will be an ongoing investigation specific to violations of alcohol,” Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said to the Gazette. Repeated attempts made by The Massachusetts Daily Collegian to reach Livingstone’s office for confirmation of an investigation on Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful.
According to police logs provided by APD, from between 10:19 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. on Friday, police “observed multiple violations” inside Porta.
Police say they observed more than 50 people entering the establishment where staff checked IDs by only looking at them instead of using a box scanner designed to detect fake IDs. Staff members also did not announce last call and continued to serve customers past 11:30 p.m. that night. Staff were allowing patrons to enter past 11:30 p.m. and claimed pizza and other food were unavailable until 12 a.m.
Later that same night, Amherst police arrested a 19-year-old man from Melrose, Mass. He was charged with violating the town’s open container of alcohol bylaw and for being a minor in possession of alcohol. He was seen leaving Porta “with a cup containing [an] alcoholic beverage,” according to the police report. Police also discovered the person to be in possession of a fake Maine driver’s license.
On Saturday at 2:38 p.m., a police check of Porta found the restaurant to be in compliance with liquor laws and that there were no observed violations.
Porta’s owner Richard Annunziata said in a phone interview that he did not know any details about the possible liquor law violations, but said they do check IDs at the door.
“We have a retired police chief [who] checks IDs, and if he feels if any are improper, he has an electronic scanner and he scans them,” Annunziata said.
In response to the alleged permit violations, Annunziata argued the restaurant had a class 2 permit and they were allowed to be open past 11:30 p.m.
“They don’t have the power to come into my restaurant and chase everybody out. It caused mayhem Friday night when everybody all ran out,” Annunziata said.
Under Massachusetts General Law Title 20, Chapter 140, Section 25, premises licensed by a local licensing authority, “shall be subject to inspection by the licensing authorities and their authorized agents, and by the police on request from the licensing authorities.”
Though it is true the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals made a unanimous decision to grant Porta a special permit for a class 2 license, there are still conditions that need to be met before Porta is granted a certificate of occupancy allowing them to serve alcohol until 1 a.m., said Amherst Building Commissioner Rob Morra.
“The decision comes with a whole series of conditions, and the conditions have to be satisfied before they’re even eligible for a certificate of occupancy to operate that establishment,” Morra said.
Morra explained that since Porta does have a certificate of occupancy to operate as a class 1 restaurant, they are allowed to remain open until 11:30 p.m. Porta is currently working on meeting these conditions for a class 2 permit, he said.
Of 2004 cdn 9 22 “There are a series of inspections that have to occur,” Morra said. “They’re required to have an ID checking scanning system in place before they operate as a class 2 establishment. There’s things they have to show the various inspectors…that all of these pieces are in place and working in order for them to open.”
The text of the Zoning Board of Appeal’s decision lays out more of these conditions in detail, including requiring Porta to submit a lighting plan to the zoning board for approval, among other requirements.
Despite this, Annunziata said no violations had occurred, and Porta had not sold alcohol to minors. And even if a violation had occurred, Annunziata said he had received no formal notice.
“A violation should include a ticket that has a violation on it, not hear-say,” Annunziata said.
Annunziata explained that he felt singled-out by Morra, who had wrote a memo to the establishment explaining they could not operate as a nightclub after witnessing patrons in the building after 11:30 p.m. along with dim lighting and loud music.
Annunziata said media coverage stemming from Morra’s concerns about the restaurant’s operations has impacted business, he said.
“He should have no right saying anything bad about local businesses,” Annunziata said. “I employ over 50 workers from the town. And by him bad-mouthing me in the newspaper my business is down 40 percent in one week. When do town officials bad-mouth local businesses? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Morra could not be reached for a response to Annunziata’s comments about his character, but said in a conversation earlier in the day that Porta was in almost “daily communication” with the town regarding their permit process.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the section of Massachusetts General Laws that states a business licensed by local licensing authority is subject to inspection by authorities.
Michael Connors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on twitter @mikepconnors.