By Beth David, Editor
At the Fairhaven Select Boar meeting in 9/18/23, Rasputin’s Tavern defended itself against allegations it violated laws or regulations in five categories: serving alcohol to underage persons; serving alcohol to intoxicated persons; selling alcohol after hours; disturbances of the peace; failure to comply with an agreement the town and bar came to in 2019 as a way to settle similar complaints.
Fairhaven Police Chief Michael Myers said officers have been called to the establishment more often, they were written up for violations, and the owner, Matthew Cebula, was defiant. Chief Myers said officers fear for their safety when responding to the bar. The PD submitted a series of reports dating back to 2021.
“As you saw, there’s a lot there,” Chief Myers told the board.
Lt. David Sobral presented a summary to the board, outlining four main incidents from 2021 to 2023.
On September 6, 2021, an officer was driving by and saw a disturbance, which led to a woman being taken into custody for assault.
On 12/18/21, an officer saw vehicles after hours and looked inside the building where drinking was still going on. This led to an altercation between Mr. Cebula and the officer. Mr. Cebula reportedly said he could serve anyone he wanted to in his bar.
One 5/7/23, charges were filed for assault when the doorman got into an altercation with a police officer who was there to stop after hours drinking.
On 6/11/23, police allege that underrage patrons were drinking.
Attorney Tyler Henseler represented Rasputin’s and objected to all the submitted reports, calling them “triple hearsay.”
He went through each allegation and asked questions of police officers present at the meeting.
For one incident, Mr. Henseler said the underage “drinker” was actually an employee who was not drinking.
Mr. Henseler also disputed that all the cars on the street after 2 a.m. belong to the bar. He even had a car owner testify that he was dropped off at his car and left without ever going into the bar, even though his name was mentioned in the report. He said he had left his car there because he thought he would go to Rasputin’s, but then changed his mind and just left.
Mr Henseler also said that Mr. Cebula believed he could entertain guests and family members after hours as long as he was not charging them for drinks. Mr. Cebula now knows he cannot do that.
Mr. Henseler told the board that Rasputin’s is a Fairhaven “staple” and noted it was used in the movie, “FinestKind.”
“This is not the place it was six or seven years ago,” said Mr. Henseler.
He said it is a place to get a “quiet drink” and is not “overly rambunctious.”
Mr. Henseler also said the board should disregard the older complaints because they were “stale.” He said it was a violation of due process.
Town Counsel Heather White reminded the board that the hearing was not a court of law so the rules of evidence were not the same. She said they can accept any evidence that they deem credible.
In any case, both sides agree that the alleged violations should be taken as a first offense.
Select Board chairperson Leon Correy questioned how a bar owner who has been in business for 14 years did not know he could have people consuming alcohol after hours.
Mr. Henseler said that Mr. Cebula was misinformed about the rules, but had since had the rules explained to him.
Lt. Sobral said the intent was not to shut the bar down, but just to get them to comply. He said the department did not want things to get out of control as they were a few years ago. He said the department wants to work with thm.
“But we need compliance,” said Lt. Sobral.
He also said that the older complaint from 2021 was supposed to be submitted, but somehow “fell through the cracks,” and they did not realize it until the new allegations surfaced.
In the end, the board voted to continue the hearing until the next meeting.
Also at the meeting, Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison announced that Sergeant Daniel Dorgan will be the next police chief. Chief Michael Myers is retiring in about 11 months, and will work with Sgt. Dorgan as part of a succession plan.
Ms. Ellison said she chose Sgt. Dorgan because of his calm demeanor.
Sgt. Dorgan told the board the “magnitude of the appointment” was not lost on him and he realized the responsibility that he was stepping into.
“I just hope to make the department proud, the town proud, and my family proud,” said Sgt. Dorgan.
In another matter, the board held a public hearing to grant a repair license to Brian Westgate of Sconticut Neck Auto, LLC, to repair cars at 164 Sconticut Neck Road, the former location of Auto Diagnostics.
The board denied the request on the grounds that the property requires the parking lot to be paved, and installation of an MDC trap, which collects spilled hazardous liquids and drains them into an underground tank.
Mr. Westgate and the owner’s son said they were getting quotes on the project, but wanted to have a license granted in the meantime.
“I already put everything I had into this,” said Mr. Westgate, explaining all the renovations he did to the building.
There was also some question as to why he was operating at all. Mr. Westgate said he thought he had permission to finish up the cars on the property, while town officials, including the building commissioner, said he only had permission to finish the cars he was actively working on when he was told to stop.
Mr. Westgate said it was a misunderstanding and that he did not take new cars in after that point.
SB member Keith Silvia took objection to that assertion. He said Mr. Westgate should have gotten the license first, before opening up.
Mr. Silvia, who lives on the neck, said he drives by there four times a day and has been seeing new cars come and go.
“So don’t lie to me,” said Mr. Silvia. “That insulted me.”
In the end, the vote was 3-2, with Bob Espindola and Stasia Powers voting to allow Mr. Westgate to operate while he waited for the MDC trap, and Leon Correy, Keith Silvia, and Charlie Murphy voting no.
Mr. Westgate looked a bit confused after the vote.
“It means you don’t get the license,” said Ms. Ellison.
She recommended he work with the Building Commissioner to figure out what he needed to open and then apply for the license again. Meanwhile, no car repairs can be done at the property.
Click here to download the 9/21/23 issue: 09-21-23 DorotheaMachado
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