The Portland City Council spent hours Monday night hearing testimony and deliberating about whether to renew a longtime tavern’s liquor license.

Portland police recommended denying Sangillo’s Tavern a liquor license, citing 23 calls to the area in less than a year, including one for a shooting in January.

Just before midnight, councilors decided to delay action until April 7.

Assistant Police Chief Vern Malloch said he has been a police officer in the city for 30 years and there has never been a problem at Sangillo’s until the past year.

Malloch said police have identified people of interest and suspects in a shooting on Jan. 28 that left a 24-year-old man paralyzed. All of them were patrons of the bar, where they had an altercation, Malloch said.

“This is the type of call we fear when we see escalating violence and problems that are not addressed,” Malloch said. “I’m not going to stand here and tell you that a call like this was not predictable.”

Malloch said the bar is mismanaged, with the owner living in California and a manager who doesn’t work nights, and that employees aren’t properly trained.

Harry Center, the attorney representing Sangillo’s, noted that police could provide only four reports of incidents stemming from bar patrons. Two other reports of underage drinking have not been adjudicated, and the other 15 calls for service have no supporting information.

“The past week or so, I cringe every time I hear ‘23 calls.’ I couldn’t wait to come before you to explain,” Center said.

Several people testified on behalf of the bar, including Margaret Lyons, owner of the Snug pub on Congress Street. She said Sangillo’s owners cannot be held responsible for everything that happens outside their bar, noting that the Snug has been the target of false reports that had nothing to do with her bar.

“None of these events had anything to do with my bar but they go on my record,” Lyons said. “You can’t hold Sangillo’s responsible for all of this.”

Kathleen Sangillo, who manages the tavern, said it is on a cut-through street for people walking from the Old Port to the East End and can’t be blamed for all disruptions in the neighborhood.

Sangillo said she plans to provide better training for her staff and add a night manager.

Malloch said he doesn’t believe management will keep its promises – it expressed confusion about having to control patrons outside the bar.

“These are significant failings of the most basic nature,” Malloch said. “I don’t know how much of that is going to sink in with the staff when the manager is at home and the owner is 3,000 miles away.”

Chris Korzen, who lives nearby, said he has called police several times because of fights between patrons.

Korzen said he was prepared to support Sangillo’s application, but the testimony raised more concerns.

“I think we can all work together, but it’s going to take responsibility,” Korzen said.

The issue has divided the India Street Neighborhood Association, said Hugh Nazor, the group’s treasurer. The board voted to support a temporary license, Nazor said.

On Thursday, the Portland Press Herald requested information about the number of times police have been called to 10 drinking establishments in the Old Port. The police provided that information before Monday night.

Police cite 23 calls in their recommendation to deny Sangillo’s a liquor license.

From Feb. 26, 2013, to Jan. 30 of this year, police responded to reports of assault, fighting, theft, a drug sale, public drinking and suspected drunken driving connected to Sangillo’s, according to the liquor license review.

Police first met with Sangillo’s management in July and suggested installing security cameras and hiring a doorman, the police review says.

In a letter to Malloch, Center said the bar has installed 16 security cameras, hired a doorman for Friday and Saturday nights, started scanning identification cards and stopped selling two brands of cognac, Hennessy and Remy Martin, because “the purchase of these liquors was related to detrimental conduct.”

Center said Sangillo’s bans patrons for “conduct as minimal as racial slurs to as serious as fighting,” and keeps a notebook with their names.

He said the bar’s management proposes to have a doorman and a manager on duty every night, install lights outside, have the staff take server training and post a “no firearms” sign.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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