State Senator Denies Hitting Anyone After Casino Scuffle

Mark Grisanti left the Seneca Niagara Casino with bruised ribs Friday night

By Carolyn Thompson
|  Monday, Feb 13, 2012  |  Updated 9:41 PM EDT
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State Sen. Denies Hitting Anyone After Casino Scuffle

AP

Sen. Mark Grisanti

A state senator involved in a fight at a casino that left him with bruised ribs and his wife with a concussion is disputing a woman's claim that he punched her and her husband as they left the building.

"I didn't hit anybody after the incident," Mark Grisanti told reporters in Albany on Monday, as police and Seneca Indian Nation officials investigated the Friday night brawl at the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls.

Grisanti said he was trying to defuse an argument between two men at the tribal casino when he was punched in the chest and head. His wife, Maria, said she was attacked by two women who slammed her head on the floor.

As of Monday, no charges had been filed. Niagara Falls police were inviting those involved to provide their accounts of what happened, much of which was caught on casino security cameras, Capt. William Thomson said.

"The video speaks for itself," said Thomson, declining to discuss specifics because it is part of the investigation.

In a police report, a 29-year-old woman said she was escorting her husband, who had injured his knee, out of the casino's hotel lounge when Grisanti ran over and hit them.

On Monday, Grisanti denied hitting anyone after the fight. While it was under way, he said, he repeatedly broke away from security guards who were trying to restrain him as he tried to get to his wife.

"I went in there and was making these sweeping motions to clear people out," he said. "If somebody got hit in any circumstance, whatsoever, it's too bad because my wife was on the bottom in that pile and I would do it again in a heartbeat."

Grisanti was expected to give his statement to police later in the week, Thomson said.

The first-term Republican said he and his wife had attended a fundraising gala for the Seneca Diabetes Foundation at the casino because their daughter was performing at the function with the Buffalo singing act, the Scintas. They were in a lobby around 11:30 p.m. when they encountered two men arguing loudly.

Grisanti said he asked the men to calm down. When he identified himself, he said one of the men cursed and accused him of hating the Seneca Nation before punching him in the chest.

As the men scuffled, Maria Grisanti said she was attacked by two women who appeared to be with the man fighting with her husband. She said she was thrown to the ground and then punched while one of the women pulled her hair out and repeatedly slammed her head on the floor.

Asked whether security video showed Maria Grisanti being thrown to the ground, Thomson said, "I don't think she was slammed to the ground, but during an altercation, she ended up on the ground."

The Seneca Gaming Corp., the western New York tribe's casino business subsidiary, was cooperating with the Niagara Falls police while conducting its own internal investigation, a spokesman said.

"The corporation is interviewing all of the employees who either witnessed and or responded to the incident," Philip Pantano said Monday. He said no casino employees were involved.

Grisanti for much of his first term has been seen as vulnerable because he's a Republican in a district filled with Democrats and minority communities. That has made his district a battleground on which the Senate's powerful and lucrative majority could hinge. Going into this year's elections, Republicans hold a 32-30 majority in the chamber where 32 votes are needed to pass bills.

Grisanti, who is Catholic, was thought to have further threatened his Senate career by casting one of the few Republican votes to legalize gay marriage last June. He received some cushion since then from a $200,000 boost in campaign contributions, much of it from gay marriage supporters, but his heavily Democratic district was still a concern for Republicans.

In January, however, the Senate's Republican majority proposed its first new election districts under the redistricting process. Grisanti's district would change dramatically under the proposal to include far more white voters, something expected to erode the 5-to-1 Democratic enrollment advantage. Grisanti's proposed district for the fall elections, if upheld by the courts, would be within Erie County and no longer cross into Niagara County.

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