Overwhelmed ferries, an overcrowded beach and dance floor, people jumping fences and multiple skirmishes were detailed in a report submitted to the New Shoreham Town Council describing the events leading up to a fight on the Block Island Ferry that resulted in a huge police presence and multiple arrests.
The reports from the Aug. 8 incident are being used as an exhibit for an upcoming "show cause" hearing, where the New Shoreham Town Council may choose to revoke or suspend Ballard's Beach Resort's liquor license and outdoor entertainment license.
Police and Ballard's knew Reggae Fest crowds would be larger than expected
In the reports, interim New Shoreham Police Chief Peter Chabot stated that he had been warned in late July that "open-source social media posts" promoting Reggae Fest suggested that the annual event was growing in popularity. He stated that he spoke to a number of individuals, including Steve Filippi, the owner of Ballard's Beach Resort and was told that in years past, "those who attended are very peaceful."
Report from the incident: Disturbance on Block Island ferry draws four police departments; they arrest 7 people
After people continued to approach Chabot to warn him that larger crowds were expected for this year's Reggae Fest, which took place on Victory Day, Chabot stated in the report that he spoke with Interstate Navigation, which runs the Block Island Ferry, and was told that ferry ticket sales were up. As a result, he requested more Rhode Island State Police troopers be assigned to the island for the day.
Filippi stated that he had also increased the size of his private security team for the day, Chabot said in the reports.
What led up to the fight on the Block Island Ferry?
On Aug. 8, police noticed that "mainly all passengers from each ferry that day" were heading directly to Ballard's. Each time a new ferry arrived and unloaded its passengers, police went to Ballard's and "observed unusually large crowds with long lines of individuals attempting to gain entrance," Chabot wrote. The lines were often so long that they extended onto the town dock.
Chabot stated that he saw people jumping fences at Ballard's because they were tired of waiting in long lines to have their bags and IDs checked.
"Even though a constant flow of individuals attempted to enter Ballard's throughout the day, I was informed by those who were leaving there was no more room on the beach, dance floor, and that it was overcrowded," Chabot wrote.
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Throughout the afternoon, Chabot said, New Shoreham Fire Chief Chris Hobe said that he had received reports about overcrowding at Ballard's. Along with a state fire marshal, Hobe and Chabot inspected the resort and did not see any capacity violations inside the building. However, the fire marshal, Tim McLaughlin "expressed concern with the amount of people on the beach, but could not enforce these areas as there are no capacity limits yet established."
One arrest took place directly at Ballard's, Chabot detailed, the result of a "large disturbance" around 5:55 p.m. At the same time, police witnessed "several other small altercations" which they broke up but were indicators of the events to come.
"Based on the volatility of the crowd, members of the New Shoreham and state police remained on scene," he wrote. "While on scene, I was approached by a waitress who informed me there were several groups of people on the beach that looked like they were going to fight. Upon arrival at this location, both groups were [dispersed]."
Agitated crowds, hour-long wait at the ferry and line-cutting
Chabot said that he was approached by Filippi, who told him that he had shut off the music and closed the bars. The police chief noticed that "a majority of the crowd" immediately tried to leave, creating a mass exodus to the docks.
"Based on the numbers of individuals attempting to exit at the same time, I became concerned that this would create overcrowding in the surrounding areas," Chabot wrote. "As such, I requested Mr. Filippi to turn the music back on and only put one bartender at each bar. This was an attempt to slow down the mass exodus. Mr. Filippi complied with this request; however, this did not slow the flow of individuals exiting the establishment."
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The sudden exodus resulted in "exceptionally long lines" for the return ferry to the mainland, which "meandered through the parking lot and out onto Water Street," Chabot wrote. He said that the large crowd overwhelmed Interstate Navigation, and ferries began leaving before their normal departure time because they were already at maximum capacity.
An incident report, submitted with Chabot's report, states that people who had been in line for the ferry for over an hour became agitated "as large crowds that were exiting Ballard's Beach Club attempted to cut the line."
About a dozen "small disturbances" broke out in the crowd, wrote officer Paul Deane. Police intervened and separated the individuals "as the crowd was very emotionally charged."
Fight breaks out on a ferry
As one ferry was preparing to leave, an employee of Interstate Navigation alerted police that a fight had broken out on board, Deane wrote. Officers boarded the ferry to break up the fight and found one man who was bleeding from a cut to his face but refused medical treatment and would not say who had hit him.
Medical staff from Ballard's were on board the ferry and treated the man's wounds, the report states. Meanwhile, a bystander told police that another individual on the ferry was carrying a weapon. Police searched that individual and found no weapon, but in the meantime, the crowd still waiting on the dock became increasingly agitated "and began to push towards the ferry," Deane wrote.
Discussed earlier this year: Order in the port: Block Island Ferry fee could soon go up to cover security fund
The boat that arrived after that incident was the last of the night. About 15 minutes after it left the dock, police began receiving calls that someone on board had a gun and that there was a large fight on the top deck and people were being stabbed.
A security guard from Ballard's was on the boat and attempted to separate the individuals who were fighting, the police report states. Officers from South Kingstown and Narragansett later boarded the boat and arrested the individuals who were involved in the fight. No firearm or knives were located.
Show cause hearing set for Monday
Ballard's will have the opportunity to present its version of events during the "show cause" hearing on Monday. A spokeswoman said Ballard's had no comment on the police report.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Block Island Ferry fight resulted from Ballard's Reggae Fest crowds