What to Know
- The general manager of a Staten Island bar who had been accused of multiple felonies in a confrontation with a sheriff's deputy last month was charged by a grand jury on only minor operational offenses
- Daniel Presti allegedly struck a sheriff's deputy with his car while fleeing arrest - and kept driving with the deputy clinging to the hood; the deputy suffered fractures to both his legs
- Presti's bar, Mac's Public House, became a flashpoint in November after declaring itself an "autonomous zone" that would not comply with COVID closure orders
The Staten Island bar co-owner who was arrested for repeat COVID infractions late last year, and allegedly fractured a sheriff deputy's legs as he fled one law enforcement encounter in his car, has been charged with unlicensed sale of alcohol and operating an unlicensed bottle club, prosecutors said Friday.
Daniel Presti, whom prosecutors had accused of multiple felonies in the criminal complaint brought to a grand jury, had drawn a mix of admonishment and praise for repeatedly reopening Mac's Public House in defiance of state and city coronavirus rules -- the former from elected officials and the latter from local advocates who protested in his defense on more than one occasion.
The most sincere condemnations from both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo came after the incident involving the sheriff's deputy Dec. 6. Presti maintained his innocence as the drama unfolded for weeks.
Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon had convened a grand jury for the case -- and that grand jury found sufficient evidence to charge Presti only with the licensing-related offenses. The bar had been closed multiple times and its license temporarily suspended because of the ongoing COVID protocol breaches.
In a statement Friday, McMahon said he couldn't discuss details on the grand jury proceedings, but could "assure Staten Islanders that we do intend to pursue those charges, and will seek to hold this defendant accountable under the law."
He did say Presti's attorney had previously made public the fact his client testified in the grand jury proceedings. McMahon also said in his statement that his office had "diligently, comprehensively and vigorously pursued all facts and evidence" in the case "and made every effort to present that evidence fairly and impartially."
McMahon also professed his respect for law enforcement officers.
"Throughout my lifetime of public service, and certainly from the outset of this case, I and the members of my team have made clear that we have a great deal of respect for the heroism of law enforcement officers who leave their homes every day to put their lives on the line to execute the laws of this City and State, and to protect our fellow citizens," McMahon said in the statement. "Acts of violence against these officers is not something we take lightly, and my thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Deputy Sheriff injured during the performance of his duty in the early morning hours of December 6 of last year in Grant City."
As of Friday, the deputy remained out of work, still recovering from the injuries he sustained in that December confrontation, the union president said.
NYC Deputy Sheriff's Association President Ingrid Simonovic went on to say only that "we're very disappointed" by the grand jury outcome.
New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito released a statement later Friday saying the evidence was there for the grand jury to charge Presti with more serious offenses.
"Multiple evidence videos submitted to the grand jury clearly showed deadly physical force was deployed against a uniformed deputy sheriff for carrying out his duty," Fucito said. "The evidence was of equal or greater caliber than other similar deadly assaults where criminal indictments were obtained."
"The choices of the Grand Jury are beyond my review, but we stand by the investigation and actions of the deputy sheriffs concerning Mac’s Pub. Let’s be very clear, Mr. Presti is not the victim here, the injured deputy sheriff is," Fucito added, and thanked the district attorney for his efforts in the case.
McMahon had found his office the target of vehement criticism from elected officials and New York City residents, particularly those outside of Staten Island, after Presti was released on bail following the incident with the deputy.
To that, McMahon said at the time it is "wrong for anyone to assume that bail is indicative of what the outcome of a criminal case will be or how strongly my office will work to pursue justice."
The borough's top prosecutor went on to say that while he understood the challenges facing businesses like Presti's in pandemic times, "no one ever has the right to take the law into their own hands" and place others' lives at risk.
"I urge all Staten Islanders to abide by the law and treat each other with respect and dignity," McMahon continued. "Finally, I want to be clear, the alleged actions of Mr. Presti were dangerous, wrong, and will not be tolerated by this office."
No such condemnation of Presti's actions was evident in Friday's statement.
Presti had been accused of keeping his bar open despite strict COVID restrictions at a time when they were going increasingly strict amid COVID case spikes. Bars were ordered to abide by a 10 p.m. curfew and serve food along with drinks to patrons; they also had to ensure social distancing and mask-wearing among guests. Presti had been accused of a multitude of violations in the weeks prior to his confrontation with the sheriff's deputy.
The tavern is in an area designated by Cuomo as an orange zone because of spiking COVID-19 rates and was not supposed to be serving customers indoors. But the owners had declared the bar an “autonomous zone,” a nod to protesters who claimed control over a Seattle neighborhood in June. Presti had his liquor license suspended but allegedly opened his doors for business anyway.
Amid the criticism, he had staunch support among Staten Islanders who feel government should not be interfering with local businesses.
Staten Island is much more conservative than the rest of New York City and is the only one of the city's five boroughs that voted for Republican President Donald Trump in November. The borough is home to many police officers and firefighters and is usually seen as supportive of law enforcement.
A woman who says she lives near the bar with a 4-month-old baby told NBC New York last month she disagreed with protesters and just wanted the chaos to end.
“We are having rallies going on so people can drink alcohol. Go to a liquor store. Go drink at home. We’re all going through this together. We’re in a pandemic," she said.