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Liquor Board Cracks Down on Oliveira's After Spate of Violent Incidents

Alcohol can only be served now until 10 p.m. for the next six months.

Oliveira's Steak House at 72 Walnut St.
Oliveira's Steak House at 72 Walnut St.
The Licensing Board has rolled back the hours alcohol can be served at Oliveira's Steak House for the next six months and will be keeping a close eye on whether recent changes at the restaurant are working to deter anymore violent incidents in or outside the premises.

"I just think it's a black mark on the city of Peabody," said board member and former city councilor Fred Murtagh, clearly vexed at the ongoing situation.

He said it's causing a public safety issue downtown that's at odds with the city's effort to reinvigorate the area. He also noted police officers are at risk due to the fact some of the incidents, including a recent stabbing, occurred while officers were outside monitoring activity at the bar.

"We don't have these problems with any other liquor establishment in Peabody," Chairman Minas Dakos said.

Board member Nancy Delaney made a motion, which was unanimously supported, to roll back the hours of alcohol service from 1 a.m. to 10 p.m. Food can still be served after 10 p.m.

Now former Peabody Police Chief Robert Champagne brought the issue to the board's attention again last month after a stabbing occurred while patrons were leaving the establishment the night of Oct. 12.

There were multiple combatants and multiple people were injured or hospitalized. Two people were arrested on assault charges.

Champagne said since January, police were called down to the Brazilian eatery 12 times for fights between patrons, disturbances and other instances of disorderly conduct that spilled outside the bar onto Walnut Street.

He said Oliveira's has become a public nuisance and a flash point for violence in the neighborhood, and that situation has lingered for at least two years, despite a change in ownership. 

Board members agreed something needed to be done and they called the owners down Monday night to talk. According to police, five of the latest incidents still occurred after the new owners took over.

Sebastia Gomes and Alia Damasceno appeared with attorney John Keilty and retired Peabody police officer Dean Armstrong, who is providing security consultation for the owners.

They contended that the stabbing and another incident in October were connected to a single group that rented out the upstairs function room on both occasions and that group was no longer welcome at Oliveira's.

Further, they said, the other disturbances occurred outside the premises and might not have even involved patrons from Oliveira's.

Keilty and Armstrong argued there was no direct evidence that alcohol was to blame for the incidents anyway -- they said police reports didn't say the combatants were intoxicated.

Armstrong also pointed out there were multiple security cameras and magnetic wands were used to check patrons at the door.

Murtagh argued, however, that over-serving patrons and underage customers inside was likely the source of the problems spilling out onto the street.

Detective Michael Crane, who attended the hearing with Deputy Chief Martin Cohan, said it's good there are cameras and magnetic wands, but the owners "need to address the root of the problem" -- whatever it is that's attracting such a rowdy crowd.

Keilty said the owners were looking to steer away from attracting that younger Brazilian crowd with DJs and any club-like atmosphere by instead only renting out the function room for weddings and similar events. They hoped that would help resolve the problem.

They argued for a probationary period instead of the change in hours -- a "Sword of Damocles" dangling overhead that wouldn't immediately hurt business -- but board members, particularly Murtagh, felt a direct penalty was now warranted.

"This is right down in the gut of our city. I don't think we should be nurse-maiding this place," Murtagh said. "If you do something wrong, you need to pay a penalty."

At one point he directly put the question to Cohan, asking if other restaurants and bars experienced as much trouble.

"I can't think of one," Cohan responded.

Cohan and Crane told Peabody Patch after the meeting that most of the people who have been arrested are from Lowell, Lynn and other cities -- not from Peabody.

Cohan said the policy to not offer a police security detail to a restaurant came from Champagne -- Keilty has repeatedly suggested that might help disperse the nightly crowd.

Cohan said Interim Chief Robert St. Pierre may have a different view than Champagne to the request, but an issue the department has to consider is the responsibility would be shifted somewhat upon the police if there were a security detail.

There's no need for that type of response at any other licensed establishment in Peabody, he said. While there isn't a "security" detail in place, when the shift changes at midnight, officers are instructed to head first to Oliveira's to monitor the activity, he added.

The board chose 10 p.m. as the cut-off because of the most incidents in question occurred after that time. Delaney also noted the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission also doesn't hear appeals on changes to hours.

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