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Police, charter company boss differ on Island Belle fight details

NORWALK, Conn. – He said, she said tales flew Monday morning at the Norwalk Police Department as reporters converged for the daily press briefing and official information about the reported “brawl” Sunday morning aboard the Island Belle.

The Island Belle’s operator, Sound Charter owner Ken Hart, was on hand to give his differing version of the events, although he admitted he was not on the scene, and, later, Mayor Harry Rilling said he will be looking into taking action against Sound Charter’s license to serve alcohol.

According to Norwalk Police Sgt. Terrence Blake, police officers were parked at the boat launch at about 4 a.m. Sunday when the Island Belle — which began its charter at 10 p.m. Saturday —  began to dock, and headquarters told them there was a report of people on board fighting.

“They could see a fight going on in the middle of the lower deck,” Blake said. “They could hear yelling and screaming going on from the same area. As the vessel docked, people began to disembark. Officers reported seeing them carrying alcoholic beverages, beer bottles and such.”

Some people coming off the boat were injured, but declined medical attention, he said. Passengers were not cooperative, he said.

Blake said that, according to the police report, a bottle was thrown in the parking lot, and all officers on duty were called to scene to disperse the group. Everyone left area, he said.

Blake said the officers did not approach the vessel when they witnessed the skirmish going on for safety reasons.

“Based on numbers – (the police) were outnumbered, so as far as taking proactive action, aside from trying to break up the skirmish in the parking lot, that was it,” he said.

Officers did board boat after the passengers disembarked and found damage to the boat – broken glass, broken bottles and overturned furniture.

Hart painted a different picture.

He called the published report of a “brawl” involving some 300 people “so inaccurate.”

While Hart admitted he was not on board, he said he had interviewed several members of the “crew of 11, five of which were security.”

“There was an argument that started between two girls early in the night,” he said. “It was addressed. At the end of the night, when we came in, as people were preparing to disembark from the vessel, these two girls got into an argument again. Their boyfriends started mouthing off. It was a total of four people that was involved in this. But what happened is when it got to the point where they started to fight, our security, along with some of the guests, jumped in to stop it. By the time we docked at the dock, this was over.”

“I don’t know how it happened but two of our windows got broken. That is the extent of the damage.”

Hart said whenever his boat returns to the dock from a cruise, police are in the parking lot. “Two weeks ago we came in to 14 cruisers sitting in the parking lot,” he said. “That’s great. I love that.”

He disputed the police version of what happened after the boat docked.

“We docked the vessel. Not a single police officer approached the boat. They did stay in their cars because there was no issue. They did say they could see a lot of confusion and they could hear a lot of yelling coming from the boat and this, that and the other thing.”

Hart said that was because people were dancing and having a good time. The boat had been hired for a birthday party, he said, although a Facebook post indicates the cruise was a Hot 93.7 promotion called the “Rock Da Boat Summer Cruise” featuring music on all three decks and pre-selling bottles of alcohol.

“It was probably less than 200 people. So the noise you heard from the boat was people partying,” he said.

“The noise coming from where the people were upset was just the aftermath.”

Hart said the boat was cleared without incident. “Everyone went into the parking lot without incident. The two women that started this thing argued for a second in the parking lot … and that was the end of it.”

NancyOnNorwalk spoke with the mayor at a later event and he said he has already met with Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, and the chief stands behind the police reporting.

“I spoke to the chief this morning. The police officers gave an accurate depiction of what was taking place,” said Rilling, who spent 17 years as chief of police. “I am calling for a meeting with the police chief and the director of parks and rec (Mike Mocciae). We are looking at the service of alcohol and the removal of the alcohol from the boat. All those kinds of things – that was a very, very dangerous situation.

“I understand Mr. Hart wasn’t there but that doesn’t remove the responsibility,” Rilling continued. “We need to sit down and find out what went wrong and why, and make sure that it doesn’t happen again and to find out what we have to do. We’re also going to contact the liquor control commission and find out about the permit and what that allows, what it doesn’t allow and why this happened. … I am very disturbed by this.”

According to Mocciae, the city brings in about $1,500 to $1,800 each time the Island Belle sails from Norwalk.

“They have used the dock twice this year so far,” he said in an email. “We have reservations for two trips on July 3rd one on the 4th and one on the 5th.  The City takes in  $3 per foot, which, for the Belle, is approximately $330 for the vessel to dock and another  $1,200 to $1,500 in parking per vehicle for each trip.”

Hart said the incident was no different than what happens in SoNo.

“I told the chief … This incident is no different than if I owned a nightclub here on Washington Street and there was a fight in there, and officers were called to a bar fight or something like that,” he said. “It shouldn’t be any different than that. I welcome the police intervention and presence. But there was no need for it. I was, like, it didn’t happen. The police did not involve themselves. They boarded the vessel after the boat was cleared, while the DJ’s were still taking their equipment down, and they took pictures.

“Out of 70 or 80 events we have had on the boat, we have never had a problem,” Hart said. “We run a safe vessel.”

Hart also charged that there are “forces” at work in Norwalk that want to see him run out of the city. He claimed some tried to interfere with Saturday night’s charter.

“A vessel deliberately tried to block our way from departing,” he charged, drifting into the Island Belle’s path with its lights off. Would not name vessel, but said, “We have the name and we know who the vessel is.”

The incident remains under investigation.

Comments

11 responses to “Police, charter company boss differ on Island Belle fight details”

  1. One and Done.

    Harry has had it out for this guy from day one. At least he’s finally taking a position and doing something. Send a clear message to the business community not to dare cross you in a council meeting like this fool Mr. Hart did. Teach him and other businesses a lesson that you will shut them down when it serves your ego.

  2. Dennis DiManis

    “This incident is no different than if I owned a nightclub here on Washington Street and there was a fight in there…”

    NOT TRUE–there is infinitely more danger on a boat, where people have nowhere to go to get away from the idiots fighting except to jump overboard.

    Big fights are often a part of the festivities at a hiphop event, so hiphop shows and dances should be confined to places where people can get out of the way, and a floating bar isn’t one of those places.

  3. Chevy Vega

    Coming soon, a new task force. Booze On The Cruise. Yeah or Ney?

  4. TG

    Don’t know if there was an article between this one and the initial one describing this incident, but if someone locks herself in the bathroom and calls 911, it hardly sounds like a fight between a few people. And that is also the crux of why it’s different from a bar- you can’t get away from it, and the police can’t get quick access to it. My takeaway from every story about Hart is that he has a problem taking responsibility for what happens with his boat. Is $1,500-1,800 worth the trouble?

  5. TG

    Sorry, realized my info about the woman calling from the bathroom was from the Hour.

  6. Oldtimer

    If there is a liquor permit for the vessel and the limits on it are observed for hours and beverages permitted, then the owner of the premises, even if it is a boat, has a responsibility to maintain order. Wasn’t Hart arrested in NY State for liquor law violations when the boat was still called the Annabelle lee ? That might make it more difficult to qualify for a permit in CT. If there is no permit and the customers were encouraged to bring their own, the boat owner would obviously have a lot less control. The lawyers and the insurance companies would then have to figure out what the boat owner’s liability would be when a customer was injured.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Oldtimer

      You may be referring to this incident. There is no mention of an arrest. http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/tag/coast-guard/page/2/

  7. Dennis DiManis

    Norwalk should get rid of this guy and his boat for once and for all.

  8. piberman

    Isn’t Norwalk wonderful ! Here we have high seas adventures. Involving both the Mayor and Police Chief. Is anyone watching City finances ? Nope. Too boring. What would Norwalk be without the Belle ? This is real news.

  9. EastNorwalkChick

    Has Hart actually paid for this docking? From what I understand he still owes the City for last years docking.

  10. Joe Randall

    WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE REALLY EXPECT WHEN ITS A PARTY ON A BOAT!!!!!!!!!?????????

    YOU LET HIP HOPPERS WITH CASES OF ALCOHOL FOR 6 HOURS!!!! WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!!! DRINK THAT HENNEY YO!

    FREE SHOTS!!!! COPS STAYED IN THEIR CARS BECAUSE IT WAS SO BAD….

    SHAME ON YOU ISLAND BELLE! SHAME ON YOU!!!! GO BACK TO MISSISSIPPI!!!!!

    THIS IS THE BEST ONE- IT WAS A BIRTHDAY PARTY HAHAHAHAHAAHA!!!

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