Sending a Message:Plaza Mexico Keeps Licenses, Gets Six Month Suspension

Chelsea Police described a scene where family members struggled to keep the intestines of a 17-year-old boy in his stomach as they frantically banged on the back door of Plaza Mexico after being locked out by a manager following a brutal stabbing allegedly by a known drug dealer from Everett who frequents the establishment.

As the family pleaded for help and no one answered, the young man bled out until his father and a friend took him to MGH-Chelsea, which was closed.

Not only did the bar manager witness the stabbing and lock the victim out, according to police, neither he nor the scores and scores of patrons in the establishment call police.

The first and only 9-1-1 call came from the family of the victim, who were at the closed MGH and requested an ambulance immediately. The only call from the establishment came from employee Miguel Sanchez, who called the non-emergency police number and was heard on the audio recording playing a cat and mouse game about where he was at – first saying he was on scene and then, after about five minutes of back and forth with the dispatcher, admitting he wasn’t there, but had been informed by his staff of a fight.

“We had a 17-year-old that was eviscerated and could have bled to death and there was no help at the bar or from the bar for him,” said Capt. Keith Houghton. “Not even anyone inside called 9-1-1. They’re clientele, and there were a lot of people there that night who saw this, not one of them called police. We had to use the New York Police Department, the Connecticut State Police and many other agencies that don’t want to be named to track the suspect to the Bronx and arrest him due to the delay in notifying us. We could have easily tracked him to his Everett address if we had been alerted immediately…They’ve been penalized before and they’ve been suspended before so I don’t know what the threshold would be for higher sanctions here.”

Still, License Commissioners in the most recent saga of Plaza Mexico on Washington Avenue hesitated to pull the licenses from the restaurant and bar, coming up short in a 2-3 vote on revocation.

Those voting to revoke were Commissioners Roy Avellaneda and Joe Cooney. Those voting against were Chair Sylvia Guzman, Ken Umemba and Mark Rossi. Rossi was the deciding vote in not revoking, seemingly being all for stripping the license but reneging on that at the last minute.

Instead, Commissioners – who stripped the licenses of Las Palmas Lounge last month in a similar situation – opted to suspend Plaza Mexico’s alcohol and entertainment licenses for six months. They are also obligated to install a new management team, install more lighting in the back, install more cameras (they already have 16), hire a new security company with at least two personnel and put in a Panic Button if possible.

In discipline meted out last month by the Commission for separate incidents, Plaza Mexico will begin serving a seven-day closure on Monday, June 22, and will have their hours rolled back to 1 a.m. They will begin the six month suspension five days after getting official notice from the Commission, which could be later this month.

“The lack of call from patrons or anyone else is scary,” said Avellaneda. “Chelsea and the family are lucky that we didn’t have a young individual die that night. God knows with the delay…I think it is a miracle the kid didn’t die. I don’t think a change of manager is a solution here. What do our agents (police) have to do to send us a message? Produce a dead body?”

Umemba was the chief Commissioner arguing for a long suspension.

“I don’t think revocation is the ultimate solution,” he said. “We need to tread gingerly in rushing into total revocation of the licenses. I don’t want it to reverse on appeal. The evidence has to be overwhelming, and I haven’t seen this video [of the incident]. None of us have. We can’t because it is still part of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Guzman was no pushover for the restaurant, and was very critical of Sanchez and other members of the current staff. However, she said she didn’t think the situation rose to the Palmas situation where the licenses were taken.

“Management and personnel are a systemic failure for this establishment,” she said. “The proposal for a fresh face and a new manager is not it. We still have Miguel… and the staff staying there. Their presence has not changed in many years…My vote [for revocation] on Palmas was because of cumulative things. Though they are similar, they are not the same…For that reason, I am thinking of a long suspension. I’m not quite there on revocation.”However, that 2-3 vote came as quite a surprise after deliberation. Many, even the applicant’s attorney David L’Esperance, seemed to feel that the writing was on the wall and the licenses were about to be taken.

Three votes seemed to be wrapped up, but Rossi changed at the last minute – seemingly erring on the side of caution with Umemba.

The night started out with Attorney L’Esperance admitting that the restaurant had major, systemic failures and that it proposed to enact a seven day closure and then come back with a complete revamp of policies and management.

They also proposed several other improvements as well.

“If it’s the manager and the staff that’s the issue, I’m willing to change whatever has to be changed,” said Geraldo Acunha, who is the manager of record. “I’ll be there full time to make sure things will go the way they should…I’m willing to do whatever you want me to do. we want to save the business.”

No one was buying it, however, especially the police who said they were at a “180-degree” difference with the management on what has occurred there and what needs to be done.

Capt. Houghton indicated that a new manager would probably be a straw.

“There’s a term called a straw,” he said. “They’re going to get someone clean and put them up and the same people are going to run the business. We know that. I think the Commission knows that. They say the owner is going to resign. How is that going to work?”

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