PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A former employee of Federal Hill’s Nara Lounge is raising concerns about its management and security in the wake of a murder that took place inside last week.
Ashley Reynolds, who says she worked as a bartender at the hookah lounge over the summer, sent a formal letter to the Providence Board of Licenses on Wednesday urging them not to allow the bar to reopen.
Police say Troy Pine was stabbed to death inside the lounge last week. The suspect, Joel Francisco, is still on the loose, and the bar has been closed since the attack.
The Federal Hill Commerce Association and Providence City Councilor Rachel Miller were quick to defend the bar and its owners after the murder, saying the stabbing could have happened anywhere. But Reynolds says she felt safety was not a priority during the short time she worked at the hookah lounge.
Reynolds claims she was assaulted by a patron on June 9 around 1 a.m., while she was working as a bartender. She says the person threw a glass at her face, breaking her nose.
Reynolds told Target 12 she called security before the alleged assault to remove the woman, who was becoming violent. She says security ultimately witnessed the assault, and did not do enough to help her.
Providence Police call logs from June 9 show police were dispatched to Nara Lounge at 1:06 a.m. after a caller reported an assault. The incident report doesn’t say what police found when they arrived.
Reynolds says one of the club’s owners drove her to the hospital and promised a report would be filed, but that never happened. The owners also said they would pay her medical bills, her attorney wrote in the letter to the licensing board.
“These owners seem no longer interested in fulfilling their assurances as they no longer answer Ms. Reynolds’ phone calls,” attorney Eric Hall wrote.
“This firm firmly believes that Ms. Reynolds’ injuries are a direct foreseeable result of the Nara Lounge’s failure to provide adequate security on the premises,” Hall wrote. “Nara Lounge’s license to operate should not be reinstated.”
Reynolds filed a police report about the assault this week, ahead of a scheduled show-cause hearing on Nara’s license.
“It’s very clearly a shakedown, and someone who’s looking for money,” said Nick Hemond, the attorney for Nara Lounge. “It’s sad she’s trying to use this tragedy that’s occurred, where someone is dead, as a way to profit for herself.”
Wayne Fantasia, the owner of security company NES Solutions, confirmed that the incident happened and said the security guard was the one who called 911. (The police logs don’t indicate who called.)
He said “security did not intervene” because they thought the patron had just thrown a drink on her, not the entire glass. He also said unlike police officers, his security guards are not permitted to restrain people.
Hemond acknowledged there was no security on duty the night of the murder last week, but attributed it to a miscommunication with Fantasia’s company. The owners thought they had security booked, but Fantastia says they don’t regularly work at Nara on Wednesdays.
Board chairman Dylan Conley said he doesn’t comment on clubs when a show-cause hearing is pending.
Target 12 combed through police reports for incidents at Nara Lounge that have been filed since the new owners, Kanan and Dhwani Patel, took over in September 2017.
Another report, filed in August 2018 by a Randolph woman whose name is redacted, says she was in Nara Lounge when “a fight broke out … causing the hookah on her table to fall on top of her shirt,” according to the report.
The woman said her friend “pleaded” with an employee to call 911, “but he refused.” She said she went to the hospital and was diagnosed with third-degree burns.
“I have no knowledge from the owners of anyone refusing to call 911,” Hemond said. “When it happened, I don’t believe anyone thought that the injuries were all that serious in nature.”
Reynolds has filed a workers’ compensation claim against Nara, and Hall says he is preparing to file a lawsuit.
The bar has had several reports of license violations, including for entertainment, noise and bottle service.
“Police have attempted to address this ongoing issue with the owners/management on numerous occasions to no avail,” Tejada wrote in a report on May 18 about music being played loudly from speakers outside the bar. The lounge did not have an entertainment license at the time.
Tejada wrote a similar report on Dec. 16, 2017, claiming the lounge was “operating as a night club.” There are two other similar police reports from 2018.
A Board of Licenses summary of Nara’s violations posted for Thursday’s hearing shows an entertainment without a license charge is categorized as “unresolved,” and the bar has been fined twice for bottle service, which is not allowed. A loud noise complaint from this past summer was dismissed by the board.
Hemond acknowledges that Nara did not have an entertainment license for a period of time, but said it was the result of an error in the city’s zoning department. The bar’s previous owner had secured a zoning variance allowing the property to be zoned for entertainment in perpetuity, but the variance in inadvertently expired when the bar changed hands in 2017.
Nara was repeatedly denied an entertainment license because of the zoning issue, which Hemond said is now resolved. He said he advised his client to continuing having entertainment like a DJ and live band while he worked to resolve the zoning issue.
Nara now has a license for entertainment. Hemond also said the bar has hired a sound engineer to stop the music from being heard in the neighborhood.
The show-cause hearing on Nara Lounge is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The board’s license administrator did not immediately respond when asked if any other letters from the public beyond Reynolds’ had been submitted for the hearing.