STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — An owner of Mac’s Public House of Grant City was led away in handcuffs by City Sheriff’s Department officers Tuesday night as various agencies descended on the tavern.
The action was in response to the owners ignoring the state and city mandates to abandon indoor dining during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Five officers from the Sherrif’s office stood outside Mac’s Public House as Danny Presti was taken away in handcuffs by sheriffs at 7:15 p.m. He and Keith McAlarney own the Grant City tavern.
State Sen. Andrew Lanza was also on the scene. He delivered a speech to the crowd, which included dozens of restaurant owners from across the Island who came to show McAlarney and Presti their support.
“This order simply says that they need to cease and desist,’’ Lanza told officers at the scene after thumbing through a multi-page order. “Nowhere here is there an arrest warrant, nowhere here is anything about arresting anyone on their private property. So I’ll ask, [and] you don’t have to answer … why was he arrested? I was told you would tell me why he was arrested and now I’m asking for that answer.”
When the crowd began to shout at the officers, Lanza asked for calm.
“I understand that we feel very strongly about this,’’ he told the crowd. “I feel as strongly as you, I assure you. But by speaking loudly it gives people an excuse not to answer us. So, let’s not give them the excuse. If they don’t want to answer, they don’t have to answer. We respect law enforcement on Staten Island like no other borough. “
Mac’s falls into the orange zone, where indoor dining is illegal. Despite summonses from the State Liquor Authority (SLA) and the state health commissioner’s office, the restaurant owners continued to serve food and beverages. Although it was given away for free to patrons, the law does not permit service during the pandemic, per Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate.
“We urge our friends in the restaurant industry to be as resilient as possible while we appeal this decision,” attorney Mark Fonte, who was not present at the scene, later told the Advance. He, with Lou Gelormino, represents the tavern in its battle against the state and city. Gelormino was inside the business as officers handed out summonses. He himself received one as well for $5,000, as he was deemed an employee of the business when sheriffs arrived on the scene.
“From what I understand, he’s arrested because he didn’t want to leave [his business], and at that point … they considered it trespassing,’’ Gelormino said. “I’d like to know why his attorney got three summonses for just being there and being peaceful and respectful and calm, and every one of these officers can attest to that.”
When asked where his client was, Gelormino responded, “He’s on his way to the Sheriff’s Office right now, where, they assured me … they’re gonna issue him a desk-appearance ticket and release him, for criminal trespass because he wouldn’t leave his own establishment.”
“These sheriff’s officers are ‘wannabe’ cops,” Fonte told the Advance. “This is what happens when little people get a little power. Each one of them will have to answer to a federal judge. The issuing of summonses to an attorney for representing his client will not be dealt with lightly. I would advise the issuing sheriff to lawyer up immediately.”
Artist and political activist Scott LoBaido was also on the scene. Some onlookers appeared agitated by the events.
“The COVID is bull****!” one man shouted in front of the restaurant.
Lanza took a more courteous approach with the officers. “We respect you, every single one of you,” he said. “But we also have questions … as American citizens. You just took out one of our constituents, one of our neighbors, a business owner, in handcuffs. I asked why…this piece of paper does not authorize an arrest. If there was some other reason why you arrested him, I’d like to know what that is.
Since Mac’s Public House took a solid stance on Nov. 20 to continue indoor dining in the pandemic, a myriad of agencies clamped down on the tavern. The establishment is still open for service indoors despite its orange zone designation — and still serving food and beverages.
“If you come into Mac’s, it’s free,” McAlarney told the Advance.
He added, “If you wish to make a donation that’s great. If you decide to stay that’s even better!”
Last week, New York state issued a Section 16 Order from Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker directing Mac’s to follow the Executive Orders. Failure to abide by the law can result in fines up to $10,000 per day. Additionally, the SLA suspended its liquor license on Nov. 27 by unanimous vote, as it found continued operation threatened public health and safety.
A spokesman for the SLA had issued a statement on behalf of the state earlier in the week. He said that free product is not a “loophole,” that a license was needed to serve booze.
“COVID-19 doesn’t respect autonomous zones, and neither does the sheriff. There are consequences for endangering your neighbors in a pandemic,” Mitch Schwartz, director of rapid response and deputy press secretary for the mayor’s office, told the Advance.
“Restaurant people work hard each and every day pre-COVID and during COVID to keep our customers safe while dining in our establishment,” said a borough restaurant owner about the state of the food industry. He added, “Now, more than ever, it’s all risk and no reward.”
Lanza continued to demand an explanation for the apparent arrests. “So I see that you have the power to arrest people who are sitting in their own establishment, on private property,’’ he said. “Stick around. Here on Staten Island, we like law and order, but what I just saw here … it really deserves an explanation. Because it really confounds all of us here. … I can tell you, as an attorney, this piece of paper did not authorize what you did here.
“…At some point, somebody’s gonna to have to answer for what happened here. Because this is wrong.”