Owners of Port 251, a gay bar and restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, accuse local police of discrimination and harassment, saying duty officers regularly sit outside the venue during the duration of its popular brunches .
Tony Sacco, owner of Port 251, said police began regularly visiting the venue during drag performances due to alleged noise complaints, sometimes measuring the volume of performances from outside and condemning the restaurant to a fine for violating the city’s noise ordinance.
Joe Maggio, co-owner, alleged that this city police response began after the venue received noise complaints in 2020, and continued until the restaurant was no longer found to be in violation. months later. Maggio also alleged that in 2020, city officials criticized the police department’s repeated stationing of officers outside the venue, but, since the start of the summer, the venue has again been closed. faced with a police presence.
Sacco and Maggio pointed out that the restaurant had been working to comply with the city’s noise ordinance, reducing the volume of its music and speaking directly to the chief of police and the city commissioner. , but later received complaints from officers about patrons clapping too loudly and dragging performers. show on the restaurant terrace.
“I don’t know who bothers at 12 p.m.,” Sacco said. “They weren’t coming because of a call at that time.” Sacco pointed to other local establishments having speakers or performances outside their venues, sometimes even stretching out onto the town promenade, but not facing the same police response.
“Police officers apologize when they arrive,” Maggio said, noting that despite numerous conversations with patrons and members of the local community, he heard no ongoing noise complaints about the performance.
But Lt. Jamie Riddle, commanding officer of the Rehoboth Police Department’s Professional Standards Unit, said officers are not placed outside of events ‘unless there is a public safety concern’ .
Riddle added that the agency began meeting with restaurant owners and “proactively investigating noise associated with Friday and Sunday performances” — not necessarily in immediate response to a public complaint.
Still, Riddle noted that the agency’s response follows a series of noise complaints from the local community received by the city’s dispatch center beginning June 19, as well as a formal complaint filed with from the City Manager’s office on July 21 – a complaint file that Riddle claims other local businesses with drag performances haven’t generated.
According to Riddle, Port 251 is currently under investigation regarding its compliance with two city ordinances: the Maximum Noise Levels Ordinance – §189-4 – which limits the amount of sound an individual or a company can issue beyond private property; and the Use Restriction Ordinance – §270-19 – which prevents live entertainment on restaurant patios. Maggio noted that he believed the site was now in compliance with the maximum noise level ordinance.
Riddle added that with the visible presence of officers during the Friday and Sunday performances, the dispatch office received “no associated noise complaints” from the local community. However, according to Riddle, the first time officers were not present – last Friday – a noise complaint was received.
“Our focus is not enforcement, but rather compliance,” Riddle said. “If our presence is the necessary mechanism to ensure compliance, it is our obligation to the community.”
Regardless, for Port 251, the continued presence of police officers “sitting outside the whole show” during drag events has affected the experience of patrons and performers alike, Sacco added.
“Customers feel uncomfortable, some get up and leave,” he explained. “It’s unfortunate because we’re just trying to make a living. But more than that, drag queens are just trying to make a living and they feel targeted.
But Riddle argued that the nature of the event was “irrelevant” to the agency’s response.
“Members of our agency serve our residents, businesses and visitors by responding to calls for service and through proactive policing,” Riddle said. “When a member of our community presents us with a concern, it is our obligation and duty to thoroughly investigate and assess the concern.”