Seaside Park Settles Suit With Former Bar Owner for $2.5M

Racially-charged lawsuit named more than 50 borough employees

Seaside Park has settled a lawsuit brought against the borough by the former owner of a boardwalk bar.

The $2.5 million settlement marks an end to the racially-charged claim against the borough, which named as defendants more than 50 borough employees and former employees, including a number of police officers and elected officials.

Stephen D’Onofrio, the former owner of the Sawmill Cafe - located on the boardwalk near the borough's border with Seaside Heights - charged in a 160 page court filing that borough officials and police conspired to run him out of town after his establishment hosted a 2004 concert by rapper Method Man.

The lawsuit claimed the plan to drive the bar away even had a name: "The Program."

"The Program was a living nightmare for my family and me," D'Onofrio said in a statement to Patch, claiming that officials were not comfortable with black artists performing at the bar, which served as the motivation behind a number of borough actions.

Seaside Park claimed for years that D’Onofrio invited the scrutiny of the police, planning, zoning and building departments after he made alleged misrepresentations to the planning board about the use of the Green Room, an upstairs venue capable of hosting concerts. The borough maintained that D’Onofrio was operating a club rather than a bar, against the terms of an expansion authorized in 2001. D’Onofrio countered that the bar had hosted live entertainment for more than two decades.

For a time in 2006, the borough's planning board revoked the bar's certificate of occupancy over the nightclub versus bar issue.

"The Program," the lawsuit claimed, also consisted of restrictions placed on Sawmill's liquor license and heavy regulation of the Green Room, including an edict that tables and chairs were not able to be moved. There were also altercations between bar employees and police, culminating in D’Onofrio driving to the mayor's home one night after the bar's manager had been "bloodied" in one such altercation.

Kevin Kopacko, the manager involved in that altercation, filed his own lawsuit against the borough that was eventually settled for $250,000.

The borough also required thousands of dollars in payments for "alcoholic beverage ID cards" for staff which were never delivered, the suit claimed.

Eventually, the borough passed an ordinance forcing Sawmill to close its doors at midnight, a decision that remains in effect to this day despite the fact that the business now has a new owner.

Philip Davolos of the law firm of Chance and McCann, of Bridgeton, filed the suit, which is attached to this article.

The settlement, which will be paid by the borough's insurance carrier, is believed by the plaintiff in the case to be the largest payout of its kind in borough history.

Dennis February 23, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Congrats Stephen D’Onofrio!
Sammy February 23, 2013 at 05:03 PM
Hold your horses. The band that was in question was a rapper band. Hence, gang's form Newark, Patterson and the like would follow that type of band. That is only one class of race , now I know why this happened.
Monday Mania February 23, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Rapper "Method Man", HMMM let me ponder on whom would be the upstanding folk's going to that concert. Let's see, Toms River probaby not, Point Pleasant,Bay Head nope.... NYC, North Jersey inner city folks, Asbury Park, Lakewood. Now there you GO!
Random Poster February 23, 2013 at 05:14 PM
like MLK once said, i had a dream....... that the state wants to ... 1: keep or put check points back in place, only allow entry to the "barrier islands" to those with proof of last years W2/tax return making $100k or more a year to enter. set a cut off date such as 3/1/2013 that will "grandfather" any full time residents making less that $100k a year, and any "renters" regardless of income shall be banned from the area, forever..... 2: eminent domain all properties that don't have 10 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms, and butler/maid service. 3: close down all "local bars/clubs" and use "sandy relief funds to build golf courses and yacht clubs. 4: increase property/income taxes for all the "poor people" in all areas of the state so when the next storm destroys the new "Jersey Shore Rich Mans Playground" they can get back up and running faster...than they did when "poor people" lived there..... just my $0.02
coolerhead February 23, 2013 at 05:29 PM
If you are old like me, you may remember that many years ago Saturday Night Live had a running joke about a racist that denied their racism stating things like “I do not judge a man by the color of his skin. I judge him by how well you can see him in the dark when he smiles.” Or “I judge him by the size of his nostrils.” The point was to show that a racist may not mention race but still could be racist using code words. Sorry @Suz but the fact is implying that people that like rap music are “those types of people” are code words used by racists. You personally may not be a racist but the langue you used is racist code. Nancy Rizzo Larkin’s comment about Spring Lake is racist code also. Fact: many young people like rap music. Gangs are mainly young people. Most young people that like rap are not gang members. Using your logic, many mafia members were Italians that liked Frank Sinatra. Should we have banned Frank Sinatra concerts? I am not saying that The Sawmill was correct. They changed the use of the building and violated the conditions of their Certificate of Occupancy. They should have been set violations. That is no excuse for racist comments.
Ken G February 23, 2013 at 05:32 PM
It's America. If the town doesnt want them then thats too bad.
coolerhead February 23, 2013 at 05:48 PM
The problem with “the program” is government should not use its police powers in a selective way. Only enforcing the regulation after the government did not care for the type of band is selective enforcement. If they enforced the conditions of the Certificate of Occupancy regardless of what kind of band was performing, and at all businesses that had bands, then the Township would not have a problem. The Town wanted to choose the type of band. That is Government overreaching.
Josef Kramer February 23, 2013 at 05:53 PM
When brown people visit your town they bring their criminal activities with them, keep it white my friends!
suz February 23, 2013 at 05:53 PM
Point well taken...perhaps my words did not come across as I had written. Yes, you are right, but I certainly did not mean to imply that I was just pointing out a particular race. Just the facts that USUALLY where rap is there is trouble and we all can agree that SSH and SSP doesn't need more trash and trouble.
Ozzie February 23, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Hey leave "Ol Blue Eyes" otta this,he would not have been caught dead in S. S Heights. My parents showed me photos of his concerts back in the day. The audience looked like a Lawrence Welk show.
G. l. February 23, 2013 at 06:02 PM
The PC correct term for gang related folk's would be Black, unless you are talking about hispanic gangs like the M-13 and such then Brown it is.
fran February 23, 2013 at 06:08 PM
And snooki and jay wow are any better then rappers ? fights ,police arrests drunkin disorderly?????? thats what seaside is so stevie D did nothing wrong and he was backed up against a wall and he pushed back and won . your the man stevie D.
KingNeptune February 23, 2013 at 09:54 PM
Rap music = Crime and violence
Rem February 23, 2013 at 09:59 PM
I think this is great. He told the local politicians do not S-rew with me. They tried to pull the all so prevalent power hand and he beat them more power to him. He is a very successful business man and obviously other businesses did not like it.
Stevie D February 23, 2013 at 10:18 PM
Paul ,You knew of me, you do not know me nor I you.I haven't been to Rider in 31 years. The Funtown Arcade was closed and purchased by me in 1990. It was renamed Stevie D's Park Arcade. I did not rehire you. 14 years later Paul, Methodman played at the Sawmill Cafe, you were not "next door" at that time. In 1976 I did go to Rider College. I did belong to a fraternity, it was Phi Kappa Psi. PKP not TKE. In 1993, PKP's charter was dissolved. It was "thrown off" campus for one reason only. On Jan 4,1993 Phi Kappa Psi staged a racist pledge event and then attempted to try and cover it up17 years after I graduated. (Goggle it!) I had no association with the "frat" at that time. My father owns the shopping,not our family. The center by Rt.166 & 37 is called Crossroads Center. It took my brother DJ who manged the reconstruction close to 10 years to obtain the proper permits and permissions to begin construction. During those last ten years the center did become and eyesore but my father and brothers eyes were set not to the existing conditions at the shopping center but firmly towards its future. Crossroads Center is not an eyesore. I nor any of our family has ever had any "dealings" with you so there really is no basis for your "always been shady" comment. I've been accused of not having a sunny dispositions on many occasions, but I don't think that is what you meant. I am not retired, but I do now have the time (only once) to respond to an idiot like you. Stevie D
Halpha2 February 23, 2013 at 11:04 PM
What can brown do for you??? Collect my tax cuts thats what. And handouts. Obama supporting shitbags.
john February 23, 2013 at 11:29 PM
seaside has been going down hill since the mid 80's. Current tough guy bar owners,jersey shore tv shows,tough guy bouncers and the trash that hang out there has made it a dump site. No matter what age or color you are..if you go to seaside you are trash.
Lisa Scalley February 24, 2013 at 12:22 AM
SSH and SSP has become nothing but a cesspool for all the crackeheads, baby mamas, alcoholics and undesirables that social services places there. Now hopefully the flood waters have cleaned all that scum out and the place can go back to being a decent seaside community pre "The Jersey Shore" and Snookie and Co. Any place where all the "bennies" go is going to develop problems, it doesn't help when the police force and township council members are as crooked as the letter y.
T Jay February 24, 2013 at 10:35 AM
Congratulations Mr.Steve D. Only wished you received more.Haven't been to that town since the 90's as a result of their mickey mouse PD "wanna be"state trooper ego's. EG. Took my family of 6 for a night out. Pumped the max.amount into their parking meter.Did not register.Left a note to that effect highly visible on my windshield.Ticketed anyhow.Paid the ticket along with a personal note to the judge. I had no time to go in person along with the possible added court costs associated with a nickle and dime ticket .No reply. This in spite of the fact I included a self addressed stamped envelope.That did it. We have not gone there since. Previously,received two other parking tix. Meter expired. Guilty. Got over it.Paid the tickets. We could have been no more than 5-10 minutes over.It seemed as though these cops just sat there waiting for that red flag to go up. Pay back is a bitch. Again. Congrat's Steve. We are smiling from ear to ear. It is unfortunate they do not see the big picture.Result,places such as Klee's,etc.suffer loss of our business.
jerseyswamps February 24, 2013 at 12:00 PM
What ethnic group pops into your mind when you hear: Seaside Heights, too much product in their hair, open shirts and fights? Swedes? Irish? Are you really going to say "that could be anybody"?
mjmjr February 24, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Dano February 25, 2013 at 12:41 AM
Seaside Park is amazingly corrupt in my opinion. They hire very incompetant people and as a result get sued. They just paid an out of court settlement to a resident who built his house like they told him to do via his constuction plans. After he built it they found that they approved it incorrectly and wanted him to demoish it. Two years later he wins @ $200k in a lawsuit they settle. I also have the same law suit against them...
Chris February 25, 2013 at 01:42 AM
It truly is amazing how corrupt all the towns and schools are...Too many law suits to count and they keep coming. But these fools keep spending and costing us money.
jrzygrl February 25, 2013 at 04:03 AM
There were gang bangers on that boardwalk before any rapper came .... I wouldn't step foot on that crap hole
Chris February 25, 2013 at 01:11 PM
SoylentGreen, Rap music does not equal crime and violence...I have a friend that is 55, white female that loves rap music...my neice is white, 17 year old, straight lace honor roll student and she loves rap music!
wookfish February 25, 2013 at 01:19 PM
Soylent Green...yes Rap..music is dangerous to the general public..look what happened in Las Vagas this past weekend
Chris February 25, 2013 at 10:09 PM
Your full of baloney...So What...Look at the school shooting in CT...He was a little skinny white kid that did not only listen to rap music...probably did not know what rap music is.
Ryan February 27, 2013 at 11:19 PM
Seaside police are the biggest gang in ocean county. Overpaid and violent as all hell. Amazing how real cops in big cities make 33k and these nightstick-happy meter maids get six figures with o.t. only to get the town sued for bashing some drunk's skull in, then go on shooting sprees. Didn't forget about that already did you?
suz February 27, 2013 at 11:52 PM
I believe that if you obey the law, you don't have a problem with the police no matter where you live. I, personally, would prefer police that appear to be aggressive depending on the circumstances. There are real idiots in SSH.
P E May 28, 2013 at 11:23 PM
Police said man got mauled by police dog on Mem day and saw him get airlifted to Trauma center I also heard gun gun shots just prior Their full of shit


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something