BY TOM DALTON
---- — The fate of Tavern in the Square has moved from City Hall to Salem District Court.
Although the city’s Licensing Board last night unanimously voted a five-day suspension — two days to be served — against the popular Washington Street restaurant and bar for an alleged assault by a bouncer, the suspension will be held in abeyance until the matter can be resolved in court.
Salem police charged doorman, or bouncer, Nicholas Quartarone, 19, of Beverly with aggravated assault and battery and assault and battery in a May 3 incident, when, they say, he slammed a man to the floor, causing a skull fracture and other injuries. Quartarone pleaded not guilty at a June arraignment.
Following a three-hour hearing yesterday at the City Hall annex, the Licensing Board found the assaults had taken place and voted the penalty.
However, the board was told that at a separate hearing several weeks ago, a clerk magistrate in Salem District Court found probable cause to bring a charge of assault and battery against the patron who suffered the injuries in the incident, who was identified as Zachary Brown, 23, of Peabody.
The Salem News was not able to reach Brown, who did not testify at the hearing. Quartarone also did not testify and, on the advice of an attorney, declined to be interviewed.
Quartarone is alleging that the customer, Brown, after repeatedly being asked to move to allow servers to get through a crowded area of the bar, swore at him, hit him with a hard elbow to the chest and took a swing at his head that missed, according to Joseph Correnti, the attorney for Tavern in the Square.
At that point, Quartarone says he “put the kid down and defended myself from there,” according to a statement provided to police.
Faced with conflicting findings by police and a court clerk, Licensing Board Chairman Robert St. Pierre said they will not impose the suspension until the criminal charges have been resolved in court.
“We do have to see how this plays out,” St. Pierre said.
A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 22.
The case against Tavern in the Square stems from an incident around midnight on Friday, May 3. The bar was crowded that night following a Celtics playoff game. Brown, who watched the game at home, headed to the bar to join friends, according to police.
Quartarone was one of five doormen working that night. He was assigned to an area of the bar where wait staff often have trouble getting through the crowd, especially on busy nights, according to Tavern officials and employees.
Several times, Quartarone and other bouncers had to ask Brown and a group he was with to move so staff could get by with food and drinks, they said.
There are conflicting witness statements about what happened right before the altercation between the two men and how Brown got injured. Brown’s friends said he was body-slammed, pile-drived or tackled to the floor, according to testimony by Salem Detective Charlene Sano.
Brown told police the bouncer picked him up and slammed him to the floor, according to Sano.
As a result, he suffered a fractured skull and partial hearing loss in one ear, Sano said.
In statements supplied to police by Tavern in the Square, several employees gave a different version of the incident, contending Quartarone asked Brown to leave and defended himself only after being assaulted. One official said the two men may have tripped or fallen to the ground while Brown was being escorted to the door.
Correnti, the bar’s lawyer, presented the board with an internal Tavern report following an incident last February in which Brown and a friend allegedly got into a fight inside the bar after acting unruly.
That prompted St. Pierre to ask why Brown was allowed back into the establishment in May, but a Tavern employee said they generally give patrons a “second chance.”
Correnti said Tavern employees acted responsibly and that the business is well run. He said a Tavern official called police within minutes of the incident and kept Brown from leaving with friends to make sure he got medical attention.
The lawyer told the board that doormen go through a training and must read and sign a manual that includes policies on how to handle unruly customers.
Michael Minichello, director of operations for Tavern in the Square, said he was “100 percent positive” the staff handled the incident properly.
In recommending punishment, St. Pierre said he felt the door staff should have called police before the incident escalated, especially considering it involved a patron they allegedly had trouble with before, and that undue force was used.
“I’m concerned about the fact it was allowed to get to this point,” he said.
He added: “The use of force really troubles me.”
The chairman said the bar was warned a year ago after police got emails describing how a customer was thrown out the door. At that May 31, 2012, meeting, Tavern staff were told to call police the next time they had to deal with an intoxicated, unruly patron.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.