NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. (WPRI) — Nearly a dozen people have joined a federal complaint against the Block Island Ferry and Ballard’s Beach Resort, alleging the companies acted negligently during a chaotic brawl last year.
The federal complaint filed Tuesday on the one-year anniversary of the incident alleges people were trapped and terrified for an hour-long ferry ride where one of the fights ensued. At the time, R.I. State Police said two people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries, and eight people were arrested.
However, the complaint connects that brawl with a series of other fights that played out on Aug. 8, 2022, which attorneys argued put bystanders at risk. The lawyers argued there wasn’t enough staff on the boat or at the resort to control what turned out to be a violent crowd attending a reggae festival at Ballard’s.
The lawsuit alleged Ballard’s didn’t have enough security to handle patrons, who lawyers claim were overserved with alcohol and broke out fighting. The resort ended the festival early, and about 3,000 moved from the resort area to the docks where they waited hours for a ferry back to the mainland, according to the complaint.
While waiting for the ferry, attorneys alleged 12 state and local police officers struggled to control the crowd, breaking up at least 16 fights on the docks and they didn’t have enough resources to make arrests.
The lawsuit also alleged two of three ferries that left Block Island didn’t have law enforcement onboard.
According to the complaint, police went onto a third unscheduled ferry to break up some of the fights, but they didn’t make arrests or remove anyone from the ferry.
Some riders who were trying to leave the boat to avoid those fights said police wouldn’t let them get off before the ferry leaving Block Island, according to the complaint. (Police are not named as defendants in the lawsuit.)
While traveling back to Point Judith, plaintiffs claim they were stuck on the boat while another brawl unfolded. An underage plaintiff at the time asked his aunt if “they were going to die,” according to the complaint.
His family wrapped him in a sheet to protect from blood, while others reported having blood spill all over them, according to the complaint.
The complaint accuses Interstate Navigation, which owns the Block Island Ferry, of not having enough staff to handle the crowds.
One plaintiff alleged they were told by a staff member that they were just “19-year-old kids making $14 per hour,” and were “just as scared as [the passengers].”
The complaint also said the chief of police accused Interstate Navigation of not making significant changes to their procedures to handle the crowds.
A spokesperson for Ballard’s declined to comment. Interstate Navigation didn’t immediately respond to a request for an interview.